It’s been a long time since I mentioned “gifts.” Specifically, the everyday gifts the world offers each of us, if only we’ll take the time—even a few moments—to look for them.
Recently, I’ve not taken the time, except to briefly note the spectacular autumn display the many types of trees in this mature suburban community are giving us. Only a few of the local trees are native to the Northern California foothills: huge, elderly black oaks with vast, spreading branches; and the mostly smaller live oaks, whose twisted, rough trunks are gray as the fur of a Norway rat and whose leaves are small, quarter-sized and teardrop shaped, with tiny, startlingly sharp points along the edges. The black oaks’ leaves turn dull and pale brown in autumn before dropping and leaving the tree branches nude but delightfully haunting. The live oaks, though, drop their leaves and re-grow new ones year-round, so they are never bare. Their leaves, too, turn pale brown and rather uninteresting.
But oh, the non-native trees! This community is getting on toward 50 years
old—and so are many of the trees. There are several varieties of maple, including the tall, skinny liquidambers. There are aspens and willows, sweet-gums and Chinese pistache trees, whose leaves are simply spectacular in the fall. Taken all together, they form a striking canopy of fall colors—red, scarlet, orange, yellows pale and bright, and brown, of course. The trees are big, most of them, and old now. They line the neighborhood roads, decorating the front yards of house after house and the landscaping of nearly every local business and storefront. And set among them are my favorite trees of all: the evergreens.
Like the Italian cedars that spike up here and there, four or five stories tall and skinny; sugar pines with big, splayed pine cones and long, thin, spiky needles; other pines of several varieties; firs that make me think of Christmas trees and the most magestic of them all, the redwoods. One of them, which has a double trunk and is almost 30 years old,
lives right outside Mom’s front window. In a certain mood, I can gaze at it and picture a whole forest of sequoias whispering in the light breeze.
I guess I’ve been noting the gifts after all. I just need to remember to slow down every now and then and bring myself back into the present, the now, this very moment as I live my life and breath in this air. The result of such simple mindfulness is the greatest gift of all: peace.