“I know we were in buds, but how did the buds get there. Why am I on this branch and not another one? There has to be a reason.” My left branch mate possessed little intelligence, but proximity limited my choices. “If we don’t know how we came to be, how will we know what is going to happen?” His disinterest in the greater mysteries of life was clear. “I live light to dark. Why agonize about the future?” Well, fine for him, maybe, but I’m somewhat of a control maniac. The mere idea of living in the moment freaked me. I always like to have five rotations of light to dark planned. This was my only means of tricking myself into a sense of security. The leaf mate directly above me once said, “You have some serious neurotic tendencies, buddy.” An unappreciated observation, but I remained silent. In our world, we are one amongst a crowd. It is best not to alienate your closest brothers. Frustrated, I returned to my ruminations. I hated mysteries. They left me powerless, nervous and, I am ashamed to admit, frightened. My first memory is my furled tips emerging from the safety and swaddled comfort of a long brown bud with a hard casing. It was a time of wonderment and fear. I could see a myriad of other tips sprouting all around me. I gazed upon my branch mates in amazement. We were bursting forth simultaneously. Below was the same color as our tips. Accompanying the amazement of our prolific appearance were dangers. We were tender. The air encompassing us could be warm and inviting one day and, the next, nip painfully. The biting, frigid shock forced us to withdraw back into our cozy buds. Then a soothing blanket of radiance would beckon us forth again. Talk about nerve wracking. When it seemed certain my frazzled mind would fall victim to anxiety, whoever is in command of the air decided on a little benevolence. A little compassion earlier would have been gratefully received, but that’s a moot point now. Enticed by temperate tendrils of air whispering and twining in and around our buds, we cast off our buds for the last time. Light times stayed longer. Dark times were a little chilly. I discovered shivering helped immensely. “Hey, you, cut it out down there. Maybe the rest of us would like to have some peace. The only time we get silence in the dark. I, for one, want to enjoy it.” I couldn’t see who yelled at me. His unkind remarks wounded. Leaf comrades should support each other. Nagging doubts about whether I belonged in this tree community amplified. Anyhow back to shedding our buds. Everywhere miniature leaves with three points, one large apex in the middle, with a smaller peak on either side, fluttered.My branch position was a fortunate one. I was three back from the big guy at the end. A snooty so-and-so, he was. Best view of anyone and he too fluffed up with his self-importance to pass news down the line. From my less favorable perch, I was still able to see past infant leaves. Another conundrum struck me. Some of us extended from different colored branches. Branches were different lengths and widths. As I gazed at the labyrinth of branches twisted this way and that, my attention wandered down the length of a branch below to its origin. An enormous branch rose from the ground straight up. From what I could see, numerous branches sproutedfrom it and spread outwards from this behemoth. Not holding out much hope, I again approached my left leaf mate. “Have you noticed branches are different sizes? Our branch is sturdy, but that branch over there is slender. Can you see the one I’m talking about?” “Yah. So what’s your point?” “Does it mean we’re superior to leaves on the slender branch? Will we be required to do things they aren’t? Do we have more responsibilities?” The left leaf mate looked indifferently at me. “You ask stupid questions. What does it matter? You do what you have to do when you have to do it. It’s quite simple. Knowing you, I bet you’ll dwell on this forever. First it’s buds, now it’s branches.” With a shrug he turned away. Fabulous. Another riddle without a solution. I quite likely would have spent considerable time pondering this latest puzzle, but a dreadful event occurred soon after. Up until now, I was quite small. One light, a rushing juice coursed through my veins. At times it was invigorating. I could conquer any obstacle. Other times, not so good. I was aghast at the rapid growth in my size. Surely I had to stop expanding sometime. And the mood swings…oh, the mood swings. One minute I floated on a sea of ecstasy, the next engorged with rage at the slightest irritation. There was no rationale. Maybe ignorance of that time is best. Whether my high anxiety could survive remembrance of such an experience without shattering me was questionable. When it was over, I was exhausted and my sole desire was to hang limp to recuperate. To demonstrate the dire straits I was in, I couldn’t summon energy to eavesdrop on leaf mates’ conversations. This was a compulsive pastime. You never knew when a hint might be overheard which could soothe my ongoing distress over buds and branches. On top of those dilemmas, I had another issue. I was lonely. Nobody initiated conversation with me. While others chatted merrily, I was silent. Cliques formed around me. No invitation to join was extended. I was not part of the cool leaf club. My categorization was the “unpopular leaf”. Ostracized by my community, my mood sank. Maybe I should be thankful I wasn’t bullied but, at least, someone would have noticed me. My emotional state was fragile. The future seemed hopeless and overwhelming. The path of life obscured. At times, I thought I’d rip apart at the seams from panic. An unforeseen opportunity arose as light faded to dark. “Hey, beautiful, you hang around here often?” I recognized the voice of my right leaf mate. Hoots and hollers rebounded off branches. Confused, I tried to see who he was talking to, but we all blended in the semi-dark. Imagine my utter shock when a melodic female voice on the other side of my branch answered, “I’ll tell you right now; I’m looking for a leaf with brains, not all veins, and you don’t make the grade.” Guffaws and taunts hounded my right leaf mate. Privately, in my heart, I delighted in the mockery. I avoided my right leaf mate as much as possible. An oaf and a bore, he was the living definition of narcissistic. Even the guy on the end couldn’t compete with my right leaf mate’s ego. Outwardly, I said nothing. I was within reaching distance and violence petrified me. Finally the uproar settled down and silence reigned. I resolved I would greet the leaf with the vein-tingling voice with “happy light” when the dark dissipated. Indeed, I spent the remainder of that dark rehearsing the two words and, to be honest, bolstering my courage. I’m not sure if it’s evident from these chronicles, but valor was not one of my stronger points. Fine, I’ll be candid; I was lacking entirely in stout-hearted qualities. After a repetitious dark of “happy light” and “you can do this”, light crept through the upper leaf mates and sprinkled speckles on those below. I peered over my stem in search of the owner of the fantasy voice. She was bathed in light’s sweet warmth, gently swaying with tiny wind spirits. The practiced words vanished in an instant. I gasped in horror. “You’ve changed color. You look just like those slender branches.” She was no longer the same shade as the below. Frantically, I searched for one of the violently hued branches to show her. She came to a standstill. “Look around you. Everyone is changing color. I like my new color. It makes me feel alive, vibrant, full of zest.” She laughed gently and said, “You’ve changed color too.” I almost screeched. Through some previously unplumbed depth of my soul I managed to hold in the shriek. My cowardice was my secret shame. I mentally processed a checklist. There was no pain and my veins were plump. Tentatively, I swung with the wind puffs. My stem seemed in good order. I turned back to her. “So I have,” I said. Hopefully, my forced nonchalance came across as natural. In truth, I had few expectations on that score. Unlike most leaf mates, my social skills, for want of practice, were markedly underdeveloped. She was kind enough to ignore my poorly acted aplomb. “I heard you ask about buds the other day. I hope you don’t mind I listened. I’ve wondered exactly the….” We drifted off into conversation discussing mysteries of leafhood. Soon, without my realization, we became friends. Our positions were awkward as we faced away from each other. Too much twisting behind caused stem ache, so we contented ourselves with occasional glances. Countless lights and darks passed in this fashion. Lights overcame the darks and we all spent more time talking and less in silence. My friend and I moved beyond our tree world in conversational topics to include enigmas such as the blinding ball above us during lights and the pale, eerie glow in the darks emanating from an ever changing shape. Not all our discourses involved philosophical conjecture. We often indulged in idle chitchat, bringing each other’s attention to small details of no importance other than daily sights. Thus, we passed the prime of our lives, although at the time we were not aware of it. The sultry lights and muggy darks, interspersed with refreshing moisture falling from above, were infinite. I still struggled with my anxiety and fears. My friend provided some comfort, but she did not know the answers to the paradoxes that tormented me any more than I. My left branch mate’s intelligence remained that of a buffoon, while, at my right, the ego expanded in proportion to his size. Unfortunately, he was immense. Perhaps, we should have expected life held nebulous perils but, when the first crisis assaulted us, pandemonium reigned. A cacophony of voices made it impossible to understand what was happening. “Stay away from me! Don’t you dare touch me!” “She’s drooping onto me. I’m going to die!” “He’s full of them!” “There’s moving creatures along his veins!” “I’m being eaten alive. Look, I have holes!” “Oh, please, don’t let them fall on me. “ Frantically, I tried to figure out what the screams meant. There was such a ruckus it was hopeless trying to discern any one voice. I drove hysteria from my mind and focussed on the leaf mate below. For once in my life, I was assertive and repeated myself until he finally answered my questions. “What’s happening? Tell me what’s happening!” His voice finally penetrated the din. “You’ve got them too! “What’s them? Tell me what they are!” “Brown crawling things along your veins. They’re eating some of the leaves. The things are making holes all over them. They’re goners. No one can survive that.” My first instinct was to try to shake off whatever was on my underside. That brought immediate censor from below. “Stop that! If those disgusting things fall on me, I hope you die a slow, torturous death.” The unadulterated venom in his voice shocked me to the core. We became pariahs, scrutinized constantly by leaves below. No sympathy was extended. To know things were crawling along my underside slowly devouring me was hideous. I imagined an excruciating demise. It was just a matter of when. There was no thought for anyone else. I was consumed by my atrocious situation. I examined myself compulsively for telltale holes to announce my death. When the first hole appeared, I sank into despondency. As lights and darks moved inexorably, convinced each light would reveal tattered remnants, I lived inside my head. The outside world ceased to exist. After days of this agony, a loud voice finally penetrated my consciousness. It was my friend. “Speak to me!” She repeated the same phrase continuously until I could no long ignore her. “I’m dying. Leave me alone.” “The things are disappearing. You’re not dying! You’ve made it.” I crawled - ugh, how I still despise that word – from my self-made cocoon of absorption to tremulously listen. “What?” “The crawlies are vanishing. There’ve been no new deaths in two days. “ I looked around me. My right branch mate was missing. I didn’t need to question where he was. As I gazed in an ever-widening circle, empty spots on branches told the story. I had survived a plague, when so many had perished. It was a slow recovery, both physically and mentally. My depleted veins fought to replenish themselves, while emotional exhaustion emptied my mind of coherent thoughts. It would be days before I grieved for our losses, even the egomaniac on my right. It was a horrific way to die; nobody should suffer such an ignominious demise. At long last the lassitude faded and I felt more myself, even though my former vigor never returned. The few holes in my leaf seemed to have no lasting effects, for which I was grateful. My gratitude was short-lived for fate was not yet finished with us. We had all noticed sometimes fluffy shapes floated across or blotted out the blinding ball. When the shapes remained, replenishment fell from the sky. When the shapes obliterated the blinding ball early one light, we were not concerned. It had happened numerous times. As the light time proceeded, the shapes grew gloomy resembling the color of the darks. The wind began to move us gently at first, than intensified with a force that bent the enormous upright branch forwards and backwards. Before long, we were whipped in both directions with extreme violence. The wind shrieked through our boughs drowning our moans of fright as we tenuously held onto our branches by stems. Moisture fell, but not in the tender fashion we were accustomed to. Drops of moisture battered us ferociously, the impact painful. The combination of wind and harsh moisture soon ripped the edges of our leaves. Jagged lights zigzagged above, soon followed by deafening booms. By now we were quiet, each leaf concentrated on gripping the branch. Some of us were successful; others were not, the wind whipping them through the air from our sight. A millennium passed as we fought for our lives, weakening as the assault continued unabated. My sole thought was to remain attached to the branch. If I separated from the branch I knew what awaited me - a forever dark. Light abruptly turned to dark. Finally, we could feel the wind slowing, the jagged lights and booms gradually ceased and the moisture became gentler. We were silent that dark, exhausted by our physical ordeal and dreading what light would bring. Light came, despite our desire to remain in the dark, and we were forced to witness the devastation. News filtered mournfully through the boughs. “Unbelievable…an entire branch missing.” “My best leaf mate, she’s gone. I wish I was taken with her.” “We lost half our branch mates.” “Look at these rips and tears. My beauty destroyed.” We all suffered loss and damage. Two cataclysmic events in a short time diminished our population and spirits. Yet, life forces you to continue whether you wish it or not. It was a bedraggled tree community with many leaf mates in the doldrums. My natural tendency toward melancholy was exacerbated. It was some time before I could pull myself together enough to converse with my friend. One significant change wrought in the tree community was we now banded together. We shared our grief and fears. Boundaries created by cliques were erased. Petty arguments lost their appeal. Lights were becoming shorter and darks longer. There was a cool freshness in the air. We were about to enter our most glorious phase. Light by light, we once again changed color. We resembled the ball above us with sublime vibrancy. This was the second time we’d changed colors, so no one was unduly alarmed. After all we had been through, I don’t think anyone had the energy to contemplate the meaning our latest transformation. Shortly thereafter, the air took on a decided crispness. This is when we noticed some of our leaf mates breaking free of branches and drifting away below. My friend and I talked about this latest mystery. “What do you think is happening to us?” she asked. I tried to reassure her and myself. “They look so peaceful when they let go. Maybe our destiny has arrived. My veins no longer feel as plump. Do yours?” “No,” she answered. “My vital juices no longer flow. I fear I won’t be able to hang on for much longer.” “We must accept what is coming. It is unavoidable. Perhaps tranquility awaits.” If only I truly believed these words. Yet, I wondered. My worries and anxieties now seemed small in the face of my upcoming tribulation. I no longer had the energy to devote to dwelling upon that which I would probably never know. Soon after, my friend lost her ability to hang on. As she drifted helplessly past me, I called out, “Do not be afraid, my friend. I will join you and we’ll be together face to face. Have courage.” “I’ll wait for you,” wafted back. After that, I patiently waited my turn. It was not long coming. When my stem detached, there was no pain. My journey was not frightening. There was a sense of freedom as I floated downwards. It was liberating and miraculous. When I came to rest below, I was cushioned by leaf mates who had preceded me. For the first time in our lives, we were touching each other. It was a balm to my weary soul. We remained this way for lights and darks as other leaf mates lost their struggle and we, in turn, softened their landing. The juice flowing through my veins now ceased too. I began to feel brittle and came to the realization I was old. My future was no longer. The only mystery remaining was what would happen to my crumpled, broken body. I have no idea how many lights and darks passed. I was buried underneath leaf mates who had fallen after me. It came as a complete shock when I felt something hard bundling us into a heap. Moans of consternation surrounded me. “My friends, I believe we are at our final destination. Let us welcome it. Embrace this, our last time together, and know that we will be together forever as a family.” I will never know if this was of any consolation. Darkness began to descend during my last spoken words. The final unknown. I greeted it with exultation.
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