The woods are wild in the late German summer. Grass inches toward the road, creeps over the pavement, reaching for the concrete. Trees grow into each other from opposites sides of the road. Shades of green are everywhere. Deep, dark fir, jade vines, brighter chartreuse on bushes, celery-colored leaves.
It looks overrun, like the gardener took a vacation and didn’t have anyone to cut back the growth while he was away. It looks like the forests could spring out the gobble up roads and cities, but it happens fast, the turning from abundant, unfettered growth to the bare branches of winter. All it will take are these last few weeks of fall, and these green leaves will turn yellow, orange, red, brown.
The forests will be contained again, leaves will not fight each other for the sun and the light will shine through the naked, wooden gaps.
No one guts its growth. The cold that changes a leaf’s color will send it to the ground, buried with its millions of brothers and sisters. The carpet of leaves will turn into the next layer of soil. Branches will shrink back from the road.
The changing season prunes the forest.
What fall begins, winter will end, and somehow this picture of limited life in a limited universe comforts me. Nothing lasts forever. Not us. Not the trees in the forest.
I remember how his cries would wake me at night, rolling over in a freezing Swedish house, stumbling to the room, opening the door, lifting him out of bed to put him to my breast as my exhausted body sank into the pillows on the guest room bed, his temporary room, I fell asleep for hours on that bed and woke up with him in my arms. I repeated this in our bed, in the rocking chair, on the red couch. I would wake up cold looking at his sleeping face and wondering if I had fed him on both sides.
I remember holding this son in my arms, the way his mouth opened and fingers uncurled like they were rusted at the joints, and how with every night that I had fewer minutes of sleep, I seemed to die a little bit more. Juggling the demands of a verbal toddler during the day and the tears of a baby at night left me brittle. The slightest push and I broke.
Unmet expectations. Snap. The dinner I couldn’t cook. Crack. Wrestling a snowsuit on and off. Crash.
I felt like a bare birch in the Swedish forest, every day stripping me of another layer of bark and leaves and branches.
I’m six years in now, with two kids, and that empty forest has growth. A child who can read to his brother, outings without a stroller and a change of clothes, two children who use the toilet unaided, boys who help me cook, mostly sleep-full nights. It has been a slow inching toward a life I can recognize even though the shape changed, and the plants look different. I’m living in a new landscape.
Your seasons of summer, autumn, winter and spring are different, but we can all trust the work of time. In the seasons of death, there is still work to do, nurturing life isn’t only for when we can see results. But it is also for waiting, for resting expectantly, it is for hoping and longing for flowers to appear again, for leaves to turn green.
In the summer we trust that what we have is enough. In the winter we trust that we will have something at all.