The Leaf

Posted on Friday, August 25, 2023
by AMAC, Robert B. Charles

In my backyard, a single green leaf fell from a branch off a big Maple. I picked it up, looked at it, and began to think. Veins within veins within veins, the leaf was a work of art – one of God’s fractals, a repeating pattern – up there on the tree. Every leaf is a miracle, and they abound.

I almost tossed it away. Why bother more thought? Why dwell on a leaf when I have things to do, places to go, worries to nurse, rows to hoe, surprises to curse? Why pause to see this leaf as a piece of art, making each branch a gallery, each tree Paris, a city of galleries – forest a masterwork?

Maybe because we can use little miracles, we need them now and then and need the reminder that they occur every day. Like them, big ones unfold, surely as this little leaf is God’s artful work.

Science tells us that a leaf is just a collection of cells, a blade that somehow knows to face the sun, held in place by a petiole, that central stalk running tip to stem, passing sugar made from water and sun through the branch, down the trunk, photosynthesis making that green we love.

But even that color, green, is a miracle of sorts. We see the lively, life-filled shade – between blue and yellow on the color wheel, opposite red – only because the leaf absorbs all the other colors, reflecting back to us just green.

That is how our eyes work, another miracle – the very narrow visible spectrum offering wavelengths – 495 to 570 nanometers for green – that speak brightly to the eager cells in our eyes, lifting our mood or lifting mine when I soak up the green. Eyes gravitate to light, especially to green.

In the end, as with subatomic particles within the leaf, and all the cosmology above the tree, way up there in the heavens, science attempts to explain why the leaf is as it is – but comes up short.

The leaf is a veiny green fractal, oddly pleasing to the human eye – part of a little interconnected universe that fits neatly into the larger universe of which we are a part. The leaf, as scientists know and seldom say – but poets deftly observed through the ages – is, honestly, a miracle.

Wrote Einstein, who surely saw fractals in the leaf as in the universe: “There are two ways to live. You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle.” He added: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious…the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead – his eyes are closed.”

May ours not be closed, even to the leaf. Walt Whitman wrote in “Miracles,” we experience one as we “stand under trees in the woods.” In “Leaves of Grass,” another great evening’s read, when we experience nature, we should let go and “let it produce joy.”

Joyce Kilmer prods us. “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree…A tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray; A tree that may in summer wear, a nest of robins in her hair; Upon whose bosom snow has lain, who intimately lives with rain.” She ends: “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” And, of course – a leaf.

In the hurly-burly and hustle-bustle, focused on our mundane worries, mind, and muscle, just keep one eye out for miracles. They are there, sure as solace follows grief, even in…a leaf.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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