Trees have a way

Spring may well be the season of new life, but early autumn - just as nature prepares for hibernation or death - is when so many new beginnings take place. September is when we start school, university and so many courses and programmes; and, often, it's when people enter religious life, and when communities form and re-form after the summer. And for me, this September is a time for packing - and its concomitant sorting and shedding - and discovering along the way how, in only two years and despite my best intentions, I have managed to accumulate so many bits and pieces. It's also a time for goodbyes, and for many "last times", and for gathering memories as I let go of places and possessions. It's a time of "sweet sorrow", of looking back even as I look ahead, and prepare for new beginnings in a newly-formed community.

The first autumn leaf appeared on my doorstep yesterday: crimson-tinged gold gently infused with pale green; apple colours reminiscent of this season's fruits, and a first herald of autumn's impending loveliness, and its gradual, inevitable shedding. And I was transported back to a retreat I made several years ago, when I was given a poem about autumn written by one of our sisters, which spoke, powerfully, to what was happening within me at the time. When I later told April I had prayed with her poem she was delighted, and told me that she had written it as she was preparing to move to a new community: from friendships, countryside and all that was familiar, to so much that was new and unknown; from a place where she had grown and experienced God, to finding (or maybe not) new burning bushes and places of encounter.

April later gave me permission to use her poetry on our Province website, and I'm sure she'd be delighted to see me use it here. Maybe this poem will speak powerfully to someone else's need, as it did for me six years ago, and does again now...

Trees have a way
of teaching us the deepest things.
Seasonally, quietly, they demonstrate their truths.

Watch them endure,
bow down, give way, accept
when from the North ice-laden winds oppress.

And then release
what they with year-long love watched slowly grow,
when at the summer’s end green leaves turn sere.

The darkest times
these are, watching green hope’s fulfilment drift away
when all the best they strove for, they renounce.

But then, trees say,
Think of that rare delight when buds, in spring, define
On desiccated boughs their glory once again.

Written in 1968 by April O'Leary RSCJ (1922 - 2013)


  1. Ends and beginnings...I love this ancient lyric:
    Now goes the sun under the wood
    I grieve, Mary, for your fair face*
    Now goes the sun under the tree
    I grieve, Mary, for your son and thee

    * face is 'rode' - rhyming with wood - in the original


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