The Last Leaf

Autumn Tree.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Autumn Tree. Photo by Callen Harty.

I walk through a park on an autumn day and am struck by many things. The light at the end of the day is incredible and makes everything there vibrant, though all around me are trees and bushes that no longer hold leaves and on the ground at my feet there are leaves already brown and turning into nutrient for the soil. In the air gaggles of geese gather for their southward journey, honking a sweet goodbye as they go. In front of me is a tree almost bereft of its leaves. I am reminded of mortality and the fact that it comes at its own pace.

I think of the pace of the seasons. Some leaves are lost early when a wind comes through and breaks the branch upon which they live. Others survive through the summer but at the first hint of autumn surrender and drop to the ground. Still others turn beautiful colors before finally giving way. And occasionally there is that one leaf that hangs on tenaciously long past the time when it should have gone.

I think of my mother.

She should have been gone several times now. This past year my siblings and I have thought that she would leave us within days several times. Yet like that last leaf she clings tenaciously to her life, not willing to give in yet, not willing to give up her view of the sunset, not willing to lose her grasp even as the last gasp of the season gives way to the dead of winter. She is that yellowed, sere leaf that surprises the wind with its determined grip on this life.

There are those leaves that hang on, and we don’t get to decide when their time is due. They let go when they let go, when it is time for them. It seems one leaf may hold on just a bit longer yet, perhaps to fall gently into the snow-white landscape of winter, perhaps one of those that still clings through the winter and sees a new spring, or perhaps to fall with the next storm. I can’t know. All I know is that it hasn’t been that time so far and I should be thankful for each day in every season.

I look at the tree in front of me and realize that I have always loved and admired those leaves that hang on despite the ravages of the seasons.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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