There may be no more-lovely scene than autumn’s golden leaves, lit-up in streams of morning sun. Amber and honey, scarlet and peach, ripen the landscape in a contradictory expression of what it means to brighten into the highest form, even in the midst of imminent surrender.
Some trees are so radiant in this season they appear like giant lollipops or glowing fountains upon hills and in backyards. They seem to burst into view—gentle fireworks landing in an offering of hope and majesty. It is hard to imagine the way we just move past these displays, as if this revolution of painted glory is somehow made to be normal. It is hard to imagine that we do not stop and gasp in awe.
When the mail truck drives down the driveway just before I’ve pulled in, I wait at the end in the little cove by the mailbox. As it comes back toward me, the wheels of the truck kick-up fallen leaves, like a boat’s wake, caught in the afternoon sun and returned to the grey pavement like a colorful carpet.
A mother pushes a carriage around a corner, framed by a forest of trees, lush and in various states of metamorphosis. Witnessing her, I am transported in time, observing myself pushing Jonah, in his little blue car, in the very same spot. If only there had been an odometer so I could know the number of miles we traveled, our azure silhouette juxtaposed with the golden backdrop. I could cry at the memory but find myself smiling instead. I move away from the steep sorrow of time’s fast pace toward the level ground of honor for what has been.
Walking on a country road on a brisk day I notice a tree whose base is surrounded by a blanket of fluffy, dandelion-yellow leaves. They seem to have fallen in a perfect circle, as if they dropped off all at once. I imagine reaching my arms down into them, gathering them up and tossing them into the air, like confetti. Up ahead I see two towering trees that are completely bare, one on either side of the deserted road. I notice how different their forms are from one another. The one on the left side is rounded with upsweeping branches. The other, on the right, is stiffer with arms jutting out at sharp angles and upward. I consider whether I can see who they are more fully without the intensity of color getting in the way.
There have been fall days when the clouds have hung so low it seems as if they are forming a second story, a ceiling, over the tops of the tallest pine trees. These willowy beasts have been wide, too, and mountainous. I have found myself hypnotized by their pace and capacity to bring attention to the vast, cornflower blue sky.
I am given a little slip of pastel-yellow paper that I scan in front of a computer to announce my arrival. There are a few dressing rooms to choose from with photographs of flowers on the doors. I often enter the room with the lavender pansies and where the rubber wrist band that holds a key to the locker is purple. Whether I am a creature of habit or partial to the design palette, I’m not sure which. I change into two, medical gowns leaving on my floral leggings. One is white with little snowflakes sprinkled all over and the other is pale blue and is worn like a robe. There is a bright light in the tiny, changing room, good for checking in the full-length mirror for the return of my eyelashes and noticing the other ways in which my body is coming back into bloom.
I sit in the waiting room with a book on my lap. I have a pencil tucked in between the pages and from time to time I put little brackets around passages that make my heart beat a touch faster. I highlight the lines in which the author shares revelations that any one of us might discover if we quiet ourselves long enough to listen. It reminds me of the idea that meditation, at its core, is an opportunity to drop-in to the place within each of us connected to infinite wisdom. When we return, we carry around a remnant of that place informing all of the many ways that we exist in the world. Sometimes we can recognize these fragments of the divine in others.
Later, I will meet with a doctor who I have never met before. I imagine us being introduced in a social context and consider the surreal nature of his request that I take down my gown, so he can examine my breast, within one minute of meeting me. Noticing my book, he asks about it. I wonder if he really wants to know and whether I should try to explain. He listens awkwardly as I tell him about the memoir, a story of a Stanford Medical School doctor and his attempt to integrate Native American healing techniques with western medicine. He flashes a smile at me as if we are speed dating and responds with disinterest.
The treatment room feels like a planetarium with a wide, circular ceiling that hosts an array of equipment and a long table centered in the middle. I hang my robe on a hook and place my book on a chair, faced down. I am offered a warm blanket and accept it. I have learned just how to place my body on the metal table so that the various wedges land beneath my upper legs and my knees. My arms reach up over my head and grab onto two handles that feel like the tops of ski polls. The technician who ran the half-marathon a few weekends before places a rubber band around my feet to keep them in position and wraps my arms in a warm blanket.
I never thought my first tattoos would be imprinted by medical staff at a hospital. I have imagined recording the initials of the ones I love on my wrists or ankles, an elegant tree or blossom along the curve of my arm. There are Latin phrases that have resonated so deeply in me, I have considered imprinting them onto my body for emphasis; ways of living I would like to be reminded of whenever I look down upon my skin. Instead I have been marked with three black dots. Two on either side of my ribcage and one around my sternum. Like a period in a sentence, let them represent the end of something, and the beginning.
The lights go out momentarily and I gaze up at a ceiling that has been lit from behind with six panels creating an illuminated, spring scene. There are hints of trees along the edges with bright, green leaves and a cheery sky with languid clouds. I imagine the display coming to life—the clouds moving across the scene—and wonder what it would be like if the landscape could reflect the weather patterns of the patients who have gazed up at it.
One of the machines makes a soft humming sound and begins moving toward me from the side. It hovers over me and then begins moving up the length of my body beginning from around my waist. As it moves upward, I can see my reflection in the glass surface—my bare chest and then my face are mirrored back to me with green lines delineating my skin like something out of Star Trek. Catching site of myself, I memorize this unusual perspective and chat with the technician with the coral-red scrubs while she lines up my tattoos with the map of my treatment. Whenever she wears this color, I think about how I would like to buy something in a similar hue—an invitation to the energy it creates. One of vitality and strength. She comments on the parts of me she can see—my pretty bracelets and jeans with holes in them. I notice her enviably long eyelashes and feel my body soften with the comfort of warmth in the room. On the last day we say our farewells and with a twist on regular etiquette we all express how much we hope to never see one another again.
This is the sliver of time in Maine when the sky at sunrise across the horizon is so vibrantly pink it is a reminder that all of the most luminous colors really can be found in the natural world. If you catch this light on a damp morning through a thick forest, the contrast with saturated bark might take your breath away. It can stop you in your tracks and tumble you in the direction of creation all at once. It is neither a time of clear inhale, nor exhale. Rather, it is a string of moments, woven together and priming us, for the expansion we will be enacting, even as our roots penetrate into the depths of our beings, where all of the magic happens.