Savoring Leaflessness / by Ryan Koch

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I am still attending to hibernating trees these days, in what feels like the end of a winter (or the end of winter.) I am enjoying lifelessness while it lasts. On a recent day spent hiking with my family I was surprised to see so much sky. The leaves remain fallen, shades of brown. All over the trail they were busy decomposing, returning to something elemental, a conspiracy of decay. Each of my footfalls seemed to hasten their demise, or at least encourage a process already underway.

Looking up was another story. The bare branches stand ready, welcoming this warmer air. And because of their dormancy, we were able to see valleys that are usually obstructed by leaves. And because of all the recent rain, we were able to hear water chattering all around us. The streams were up. We crossed one three times, glad for such a crystalline interruption.

And can I brag on my companions? This hike got a little longer than we meant for it to, yet our whining was minimal. A large puppy pulled me most of the way, so my attention was on the trail, the leash, the next step, the pace. It was our son who said he needed to slow down and take it all in. I was glad to hear that he was overwhelmed by the fullness all around us, the wild decomposition that begins anew with every thaw, and the branches uplifted in praise. It is a lot to take in, this forest bath. Weren't we so glad to be outside?