Autumn is a bittersweet season as the leaves on deciduous trees take on fantastic shades of color, then dry on the branch before they gradually let go one at a time to drift lazily to the earth where they crunch underfoot. The different trees turn color at different times, and the particular shade of autumn foliage varies by species, but they all pretty much do the same thing this time of year.
Except for the ginkgo trees, that is.
Ginkgo trees are considered a living fossil, so old that they have no close living relatives. They are unique among tree species.
One of the unusual things about this tree (among many) is the way the leaves act in the fall. They turn a bright yellow so intense that it could be pure sunlight captured in small fan-shaped forms. While it is true that they will respond like other deciduous trees if the temperatures stay warm, that is often not the case here in the Midwest.
On the first night that it dips below a certain temperature, the tree lets go of all its leaves en masse. They rain down in showers of little yellow fans still full enough of the water of life that they have too much weight to do the usual lazy drift. This is more like a heavy Spring rain shower with each leaf crashing to the earth as fast as it can go.
The result is an overnight carpet of soft yellow leaving a completely bare tree in its wake.
I had a large ginkgo tree in my back yard at my first house. I still remember my alarm the first time I witnessed this phenomenon. I was sure the tree was damaged or dying, but it turned out that it was just being a ginkgo tree doing what ginkgo trees do. (Incidentally, I also quickly discovered that leaves that are still that moist are a real bear to rake because they are so heavy.)
I was reminded again of this earlier this week when we had a particularly cold night, and I noticed the next morning that a neighbor’s ginkgo tree has done the sudden all-at-once leaf drop overnight. Their yard had been transformed into a thick carpet of bright yellow sunshine, without a single leaf remaining in the branches of tree.
This is what ginkgo trees do. They don’t worry about the fact that all of their fellow deciduous trees in the neighborhood do it differently. They also don’t spend any time worrying about whether their way of doing things inconveniences anyone.
They don’t waste time thinking themselves broken or wrong or defective. They don’t chastise themselves for not measuring up to what is considered “normal.”
They just “do ginkgo” because that is what they were made to do.
It makes me wonder what it would be like to live that way. What if I allowed myself to just “do Kenetha”? What if I let myself be uniquely me and do the things that come naturally to me?
I so easily get caught up in comparing myself to people around me and trying to conform to what they do or to their expectations of me that I completely lose sight of what it means to just be me. I find myself doing what others do or what they think I should do or what the culture tells me I should do. In the process, I contort myself into a highly stressed pretzel by trying to be someone I am not.
Of course, being a human who lives in relationship with other humans means that I need to be more aware of the impact of my words and my actions on others than the ginkgo perhaps needs to be, but it’s one thing to be aware of my impact on others, and another thing to allow others to dictate who I am.
After all, the ginkgo trees must be doing something right to have survived for so long and to be able to withstand even atomic bombs. If “doing ginkgo” even when that’s not how the other trees do things works for these ancient trees, I suspect it would work similarly well for me to just “do Kenetha.”
It would certainly bring much more ease to life!
How well do you “do you” without feeling pressured to be like everyone around you? What helps you feel comfortable with just being you?
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