We live in a heavily wooded neighborhood with an unfortunate preponderance of oak trees. Oaks are one of the last trees to lose their leaves, which generally turn brown rather than the spectacular golds and reds of other species. This means that we often end up with piles of brown leaves buried under the winter’s first snowfall. The oaks also pelt our yard, driveway, and occasionally our heads with acorns. There is a down side to living on Oak Ridge Lane.
But among the oaks are a few maples, whose leaves reveal brilliant, translucent color this time of year. One maple, in our front yard, has a rogue branch about 8 feet off the ground—about 20 or 25 feet below the tree’s main cap of leaves. This branch is perfectly positioned to be framed by the window next to our kitchen table. At this time of year, I like to sit at the table, taking in my perfectly framed branch as it turns from green to flame.
Looking at my rogue branch makes me feel grounded, tied to this place where we have made a home, and to the simple beauty of a single moment. I think of these lines from the first of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, “Burnt Norton”:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
My branch lifts me out of time for a few moments, out of mundane and sometimes more serious worries, away from niggling concerns for the future and corrosive obsessions with the past. Here the dance is. There is only the dance, embodied for this moment in a stray branch revealing its deep beauty only in its death.
I think too of this favorite prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:
O God of peace, you have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, into your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Over the years, we’ve had a number of trees cut down or trimmed, for both aesthetic and safety reasons. But no matter what, my branch must stay—my still point of the turning world.