Today I was sitting on my porch, soaking up the insistent vibrations of midday jungle when I heard a tearing crash. As leaves fluttered down into the steep ravine that is my front yard, I realized it was a branch–thick and wieldy–detaching from its home, exchanging towering life for a moist, shaded grave. Staring into the thick pulsing green, I had a small realization about a simple but, at least to me, meaningful difference between the forests of the North and those of the Equator:
Trees in Montana age to a predictable cadence, coloring and dropping once a year. Their seasonal death signals the onset of Fall and shifts the mood, serving as amiable ushers to the coming snows. And then, when the late February desperation has nearly drained the will of all inspiration, the trees perk up, stretching dormant limbs as the weight of months-old ice drips into the roots for recycling. If you’ve got anything to let go of, do it in the Fall as Halloween tones coat every imaginable surface. Hibernate through the liminality of the long freeze, and then embrace rebirth with the rest of existence when the Sun again implores an end to desolation.
It doesn’t work like that here in Bali. There’s really no seasons. Just hot and rain. There’s no metaphorical justification for being lazy or depressed, even if it’s January. The inspiration of a newly budding Spring flower is nowhere found because they always exist in some state of growth or death. Always. The vegetation here dies on an individual basis, one leaf at a time–autonomous to the end. Forest forever grasping toward the beating sun while simultaneously dropping aged stowaways.
My realization: I’m in Bali, not Montana. It’s time to get with the program. Pieces of me want to die, are aching to be shed from the stubborn, outdated armor of my psyche. I’m growing, wiggling free in ways never imagined, yet I remain tethered to the anchors of the past. What am I waiting for? Fall is far off yet. If wooden hulks bare any resemblance to the human mind (why wouldn’t they?) then it’s completely feasible to be born while dying.
I find myself stalling…but for what? An auspicious sign, the right toss of the I-Ching, a creative explosion, the next season of Game of Thrones? What is the end-game of waiting for just the right moment to make the moves I know must be made? When can I finally pull the plug and allow the grissled artifacts of days past to slip into oblivion? I think the branch was my sign; permission granted in one crackling tumble.
We all need a personal Kevorkian–someone or something to tell us “it’s ok. It’s time to let go.” Life is most often spent in the external world, watching and judging and conforming. The changes pile up outside, but rarely do we adjust inside. Nobody told us that two worlds exist, so we never consider looking. We think of death as a singular, final process to be avoided because hey, we’re alive. All too easily, we forget that if we don’t heed the little deaths, the inevitable falling apart of one way of seeing, we aren’t really alive. We’re dreaming, perpetuating through brute force a reality so thin and fragile that the wrong molecule at the right time can dismantle it in moments. The paradox exists in learning to shed the skin while remaining engaged; sympathetic to the wilting old, present to the flowing, fluctuating new.
So, thank you obscure, tropical branch. Thanks for your service to the forest, to the shade you provided for the critters below, to the pleasing symmetry you lent that now-awkward-looking tree. It was your time, and you knew that better than any other. Nobody came to chop you down. No, you just felt your fibers withering and realized that the trickling stream below didn’t look so bad after all. You will be missed, but your progeny will carry your legacy for years to come.