Most of our attention goes to the brilliant leaf color this time of year. However, I’d like to recognize and honor an often unnoticed gift of the season. As we move deeper into autumn, leaf skeletons become scattered amongst crunchy and colorful leaves on the forest floor.
When I first became aware of a leaf skeleton, I was struck by its beauty – its starkness, delicate nature, and intricacy. The skeleton reveals the structure of the leaf and the veins that supported it with nutrients and water in previous seasons.
Though now delicate, those veins nurtured and nourished the leaf until energy was sent into the tree roots to prepare for cold weather ahead. Some fallen leaves become leaf skeletons. But not all do. The process requires a harmony of exposure and shelter. (Ultimately, all leaves join together as leaf litter that nourish the soil, trees, and creatures below it.)
The leaf skeleton is a gentle, yet poignant, visual reminder of what is life giving and spirit sustaining. Of what supports us when everything else is removed—the superficial comforts and distractions. When all else falls away, the essence remains. The life lines and supports that sustain us are revealed.
Sometimes it takes a shedding, a decomposing, a falling away to reveal what is vital. Just as food, water, shelter and sleep are essential for the body, there are essential elements for the spirit.
Just as each human is imprinted with a unique and precious spirit, what sustains each spirit will be unique.
I researched leaf skeletons online to learn more about the biological processes. And I was surprised that the majority of results were how to create your own leaf skeletons artificially (as they have been treasured for their beauty for many years). However, I’d prefer to find, observe, and treasure them in their natural environment.
If you happen upon one, delight in the botanical wonder you have found. Invite it to remind you of the essence of what’s needed for your soul.
When everything else falls away—whether by choice or circumstance—what is there to uphold and sustain you? Embrace what nurtures your spirit this autumnal season.
And when you venture into the woods this fall, take comfort in the leaf skeletons and leaf litter that nourish the earth you walk upon.
To delve deeper into the gifts that autumn offers, explore the wisdom of autumn trees.