Texas leaves typically go directly from green to brown in Autumn, quickly landing in a heap. But this year was different. We were graced with vibrant yellows from the elms, tall angular columns of rust from bald cypress, and notes of magenta from red oaks. Crepe myrtles got into the act putting forth saffron, then mellowing into rich orange hues.
After a dry August, September and October were rainy. Apparently, the extra moisture allowed the leaves to hold on longer before dropping. That, in turn, provided more time for pigments to develop. Some observers were convinced that the combination of warm days punctuated by cold nights had a mysterious, less well-defined effect.
I was overseas for a long time, twenty years to be precise. When I got back, Mindfulness was a real thing. Meditating in the U.S. had previously been the realm of hippies and dropouts not particularly in touch with the real world. Now, soccer moms are into it. There are mini at-your-desk meditations to do in the office. Mindfulness has traction across age ranges — healthy aging for the elderly; schools are teaching it to fourth-graders. You miss a lot when you are gone for that long.
In Southeast Asia, you lose track of the seasons. It is ninety-two degrees every day of the year. As a result, the passage of time is not marked in the same way as in the US. You don’t really notice how much the seasons impact the formation of memories until you don’t have seasons anymore. Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas when you break a sweat crossing the street. And you don’t have falling leaves to signal a winding down. Everything is lush and green year-round, which is great in a way. But in a way not.
The flushing foliage, combined with some mild, sunshiny days pushed us outside. Phyllis and I had sandwiches by the lake, took photos along Bull Creek, and walked in the park. It wasn’t just us — the leaves were also in motion. At times they fell gently in isolation, like butterflies alighting. Then masses would shower downwards, released by gusts of wind, pops of confetti shimmering on their way to the ground. Elsewhere, the leaves seemed to waltz, caught up in currents, twisting along the side of a building or river bank.
The basic tenets of Mindfulness are pretty straightforward: staying in the moment, being purposefully aware of your thoughts, feelings, senses — engaging with the environment around you and accepting what comes in a non-judgmental way; then letting go. Kindness and gratitude are emphasized. We could all be a little less judgy. We could all let a little more roll off our backs. It’s hard to find fault with any of that.
A couple weeks ago, the sound of the leaves was overhead. Now it is a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree experience. Underfoot, there is a somehow-endearing crunch when I walk. Swirls of leaves drift up against anything that will accommodate them — a curb, a doorway, an outcropping of stones. As they are pushed towards their resting place, the leaves rustle as if chattering to one another, jostling commuters on a train.
Meditation and letting go are not exactly new concepts. What we call Mindfulness has been around for two-thousand-five-hundred years or so — only now it has been repackaged in a non-Buddhist format. Americans saw something similar in the 1970s. This time, though, there is no need to perform motorcycle maintenance in order to get in touch with one’s inner self. Mindfulness manages in some ways to be a secular religion. In other ways, it is its own thing.
I wanted to read the newspaper, so I decided to do so on the back porch, glancing up to admire the surroundings between articles. The sun began to sink low to the southwest, and as it did so, our crepe myrtle began to glow, warm hues backlit by the softening light. Wind rustled leaves at my feet; a few more let loose and twirled downwards.
I allow the sensation to wash over me. To-do lists drift away; worldly concerns are suspended. There are things to do, and they will get done, but at this moment I make a choice to be fully and consciously engaged with what is around me. The light is about to fade. Branches that were recently full, will soon be bare. I am, at least for the moment, mindful — grateful for nature’s fleeting gifts and attentive to the ephemeral.
Sean Winn‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ocotillo Review, Call Me [Brackets], and Echo. After living in Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, he currently makes his home in Austin, TX.