I turn the silver knob and push, stepping out the back door of my home. My senses instantly become realized as I take in the smell of fresh air, the sound of crickets, and the sight of my source of wealth. Stretched out before me is a thousand acres of flat gold in each direction; gold that I harvest to make a living. Not ten feet from my home is an astounding sight, a wonder that never ceases to amaze. A redwood tree towers over the land, as if to protect it from the bright blaze of the sun. I sit on my porch, shaded, and observe how the leaves dance in the soft, warm breeze. They sway gently to nature’s song. The wind picks up, causing the leaves of the tree to rustle as it passes by them. A dozen or so leaves take off, carried away from their home. Their dancing becomes less rhythmic and more panicked as they scatter from each other, individually deposited within the field of gold.
The tree does not move. It stands as still and as confident as it did before, though it knows more of its offspring will fly away, as they always do this time of year. The time of year when the sun’s glow is slightly duller and the sky looks as if it were an artist’s portrait before falling into darkness. The wind whispers ‘change’ and the earth obeys. The leaves change colour, looking livelier than ever, before they are ripped from their life source and fall, forgotten. As autumn gives way to winter the world turns white, and the earth all but freezes to death. At that time the tree will be bare, exposed for all to see. It will be truly alone and I will look upon with a sense of pity. Yet, time will pass, and the wind will whisper again, rekindling the earth with new life. The tree glows as the green leaves are restored to its branches, and my pity turns to awe.
It is this cycle that engulfs us all, and yet humans live out their lives without ever truly comprehending that there will be an end. We believe we are like trees, masters of our own fate, towering over the land, forever standing still. We believe we are the ones that bring about new life, when the truth is we are the ones that bury the dead. We believe we are connected to the earth when we are only walking across its surface. So what are we to become then, but leaves on a tree that fall, only to never return?
I stand up and walk out into the field where the leaves are scattered. I part the golden rods to make a path for myself, strolling forward until finding what I seek. Lying on the earth is a radiant red leaf. I put one knee down to the earth, gently picking up the fallen leaf. I look up, shielding my eyes from the sun so that I may look up at the redwood tree. The leaves continue to dance slowly, as if they were unaware that they would ever fall. As if there were no season that they would not live through. How wonderful it must be, to never know fear or doubt. How wonderful it must be to live life always feeling connected and safe, right up until the moment you die. I look away from the strong tree, back to the leaf in my palm. Perhaps it is because I know that I too will die, that I cannot feel sorry for the leaf. Or maybe it is jealousy, because I know that when I die, I will not return.
I curl my and into a fist, driving it into the moist soil. I envy the leaf. I want to feel safe and secure. I want to dance for eternity. I feel the roots of the golden crop in my hand as I realize that I am not a part of the earth like the redwood tree. I have no roots with which I can connect myself to nature. I have only hands with which I can desperately grasp at roots. I place the leaf in the hole my fist created, and cover it with the loose soil. I will eventually leave this world, but perhaps that is what makes my life valuable. I will live many seasons, witness many changes, lives and deaths, and in the end I will lie down peacefully. I will have dignity, and I will be proud of the impact I have made on the world. There can be no life without death, and there can be no death without life. Therefore, it is my tragedy and my gift that I will only live and die once.