The Art of the Falling Leaf

In order to make some of my columns and articles available to readers here, I am reprinting them as posts.  This was first published in Moondance in September, 2009.

Fall in New England is when nature’s beauty shifts to a deeper, starker, more mysterious artistry that is awe-inspiring. In spring and summer, everything works together to create a landscape full of busy plants, animals, insects, and birds. In the fall, after the harvest, labor ceases as silent leaves drop by the trillions in a palette of blazing hues. Later, in the winter, tiny crystalline masterpieces pile up almost infinitely, storing water’s power in the magnificence of their geometric splendor.


Like nature, I have a “budding leaf” profession and a “falling leaf” art; the first being useful, practical, and the latter is purely for the sake of joy, personal fulfillment. Writing is a large part of what I do for a living and mostly how I spend my free time. Much of what I write generally has a message, teaches, or is intended to help foster change in some way. It is done in a workwoman-like way that builds on and affirms who I am and what I am capable of. I am in control of it and the process of creating is as comforting and unsurprising as an old sweater. You probably have such a profession, too. It need not be what others call “art” to be creative; if you sincerely put your mind and hands to any job or task, it is creative.


However, I dance only for the love of it. When I was young I wanted to be a professional dancer, but I simply was not talented enough nor was my body the right shape. I still dance, generally in my kitchen with the lights off. I wait until some rhythm grabs my feet and off I go. I completely surrender command of my spirit and body, which I doubt I could do if I always wondered whether I was dancing well enough or how others rated my form and movement.


Perhaps I was thinking of Isadora Duncan’s admonition, “You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you,” when I stepped onto the dance floor of a rock-and-roll club late one night decades ago. I began to dance all by myself, alone on the platform, staring at the floor. Then two more feet joined me, and when I looked up, I was dancing with a stranger, a woman I recognized as an icon of creative freedom and power. I tend to be shy, but the dance set free a bolder self at one with the music and movement. I still wonder at how perfect it was that my dancing seemed to conjure this woman who was the embodiment of what dance symbolized to me.


That night I learned that falling-leaf art brings forth truth. When we practice our chosen art for its own sake, we have an immense freedom to create just as we wish and, in doing so, learn about ourselves. At those times when I need to stop myself from second-guessing decisions, I recall this moment and revel in being that brave and brilliant woman. Yet, my older self understands that dancing alone in public is a statement about freedom, confidence, and individuality that also brings those qualities to other areas of life.


Falling-leaf art does not simply reveal, but also affirms. When I dance, I am saying that a moment of being enveloped in beauty is as important as time spent on a functional task. Each of these beliefs opens up not just my view of myself, but of the world, making it brighter, more loving, and more respectful of all beings in it.


Perhaps this season is a good time to dedicate myself to a new falling-leaf art. Dancing certainly has been transformative, but I have done that for thirty years, and now I believe it is time to try a new art form. It may not be considered a traditional artistic endeavor but will nonetheless be creative to me. Maybe I will teach a workshop, put together a new image from a consignment shop, or volunteer to organize a sacred arts festival. Each of these would reveal more of who I am by calling on talents that I have neglected as I focused on my writing.


Perhaps I can even find other women to join me. Several years ago I attended a dancing workshop with one hundred other non-dancer women. We had come to learn ancient dances that seem, from archeological and folkloric evidence, to have been part of the spiritual lives of women millennia ago. Holding hands, we performed a dance from Greece that turned us into a single spiral. As I danced, I began to weep. Dancing as part of a group was much more powerful than dancing alone as we each validated and learned from one another’s experience. So often we think of the lonely artist creating in a garret, but now I know that falling-leaf art undertaken with others does not just transform each individual, but also creates a community


And it is the same with nature. During the fall and winter, no single leaf or snowflake makes the entirety of nature’s canvas. Millions must come together.


Like busy nature in summer, we women throughout the millennia have channeled our creative impulses into useful objects such as quilts, embroidered clothing, or elaborate pastries. We have, until recently, generally been denied the leisure and opportunity to make art only for art’s sake. I think about all we may have lost, for I realize that while nature makes falling-leaf art above ground, she also is incubating the seeds of spring’s new life below. I believe that when we create falling-leaf art, we also remake and rediscover ourselves in our own springtime. I invite you to join me. What will be your falling-leaf art this season?

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