Silent Lessons

Standing solitary on this hill, an island in a grassy sea, the Maples hover over a mismatched pair of boulders. Nearby, a flock of crows pause in the shelter of pine and orange trees, then rising high they dive nearly to the point of suicide only to flirt again with danger, reckless on the plunging wind. Weary, they return for a mid-day snack, pursuing desperate worms, black heads bobbing down to toss aside damp leaves. A hint of returning rain rouses all to wing, and the crows flock noisily elsewhere, leaving an empty silence punctuated by the wind struggling against the trees. Breaking free, the gale roars across the lawn, fatally dancing with dandelions and hapless clover, futilely beating against the stubborn pine and eucalyptus. A brief stillness drowns the hillside as the rain comes, slanting downward in small but thick, persistent drops.

The Maples stand serene in this brutality. A woman walks her puppy, scolding sharply when youthful curiosity pulls at the leash, demanding to know what lies on the other side of this wall, of that rock, of the other shrub. Two other dogs storm furiously down the hill, one after another, all eight legs nearly skidding in the mud as they carve tight corners where the hill gives way to flat land and parking lot. They chase each other and disappear, flashes of gold and brown and black.

The Maples stand fixed as mobile lives pass by them, ever observing, recording, remembering. None are unnoticed. A young couple race up the hill, his gasping wheeze overwhelming her quieter breathing; they walk down to race again. Huddled under an umbrella and a car hood, two baffled men and a concerned woman peer at and poke into the mysteries of a dysfunctional engine. A tractor rumbles back and forth, directed in subtle productivity by a man swathed in flannel and ear muffs. Assorted cars roll easily down or climb painfully up, some choking and fainting, facing the remainder with gentle coaxing. Men jog past, herd-like, so many purposeful cattle, lowing loudly about baseball and coaches and running in the rain.

Arching over the faithful Maples and these petty movements, the firmament is an inconsistent, shifting canopy of light and shadow; the heavier gray clouds sink earthward for relief from their watery burdens. These pass to lightly layered wisps of white on white, fading to mounds of enormous cotton balls suspended just above the distant hills. The first glimmers of blue beyond the many clouds hint of different weather, more than endless rain. Slow and teasing, the blue gradually expands, pushing the clouds south and east, declaring the return of the sun.

Through all this, the Maples stand upright, resolute, and proud. Among the comings and goings, the risings and fallings, these stand unmoved. Still just as they stood when first noticed, they are permanent, here yesterday, today, tomorrow, and even the day after that. Each time I come, they will be waiting for me, three individuals drawing life from a common root. Ever here by their rocks, they are stability in an unstable world.

They will gradually change with time. Each will add to the present eight feet of arching trunk and spreading, interweaving branches. The small nodes tipping the zigs and zags of tapering limbs, now hard and a rich red brown, will softly swell and burst, birthing fresh green infant leaves. Regally clothed, these now standing naked in the cold will rejoice in the new life of spring. Maturity will come with the summer breezes, and the darkened greens will fade into the burnished tones of autumn, celebrating the twilight of another season, another year. Too soon, the rising winds will strip the Maples bare, sending the dry, golden leaves to skitter across the constant green of the lawn, once again leaving the stark branches to shiver in the cold death of winter. The cycle will be complete.

Yet, the Maples will still stand. Patiently, they will watch the harried pace of those with legs and wings and wheels in their mad rush after love, lunch, and assorted other obligations. The Maples stand secure in their place and in their duty, silent, wordless monuments to the continuing cycle of life and death and sure resurrection. Faithful, always expecting the return of spring, never doubting, never rushing, they are content to wait.

Feb. 1995