Saturday, September 22, 2012

Air Candy of Autumn: The Caramel Katsura

Cercidiphyllum japonicum, Katsura
     I am blessed to have several Katsura trees outside the entrances to the building where my office is located. This morning after seeing clients, I walked outside and entered the bountiful world of clear autumnal light through which a soft breeze wafted the delicious aroma of caramel. There is no candy maker at hand. The wave of scent derives from the Katsura trees. What a gift for the first day of fall!
     Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) is a small, multi-stemmed tree that grows to perhaps 40 feet in cultivation. It is native to Japan, where as a deciduous understory tree in the wild it can rise to nearly 150 feet. In the United States, it is hardy in zones 5 through 9 with reliability. The shape of the tree itself reminds me precisely of what I thought a tree should look like when I was a child: slightly lollipop shaped, and not puny like the ones you got in your Halloween treat bag, but big, like the ones you talked your father into buying you at Disneyland.
    In the spring when it first shows its buds, the Katsura can be mistaken for the Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis, hence its name, Cercidiphyllum, though there is no relationship between these two trees) because the shape of the leaves is similarly heart-shaped. But that's where the similarity ends. Cercis shows maroon leaves early on, and then produces clumps of harsh blue-pink flowers that clash stridently with anything harboring even vaguely yellow undertones.
     In greater harmony with most of the natural springtime palette, Katsura buds tend more toward coral, and the leaves can hold a coral edge until they open to a pure, bright green. In a summer breeze, they flutter lightly due to their shape, giving an overall effect of quiet dynamism. In all, it is a lovely specimen in  a small garden, but even better planted in groups, when the energy of these trees is palpable.
     The true magic begins in autumn when the first cool nights suspend the production of chlorophyll, revealing the magnificent range of colors that underlie the Katsura's summer green: butter yellow, gold, salmon, red, maroon, bright orange, burnt orange, brown. It is a most glorious spectacle when the green takes off for the season.
     And then the aromatic feast begins.
     The floating scent of caramel, the blue sky, and the lower angle of the sun's rays tell me this is the day, now is the moment, when a transition can be felt in all its glory. So many times, things move and blend one into the other without lines of demarcation. We wake up one morning and realize it is no longer spring, but summer. We realize our new pet is no longer a puppy, but a dog. But the moment a Katsura fills the air with the scent of caramel, you feel the moment of the seasonal cusp. With a Katsura in your garden, you have the opportunity to stand on the very spot where summer turns to autumn.
     Soon the scent of caramel begins to fade, and the leaves turn in their chromatic variability for uniforms of yellow before dropping to the ground. The naked tree shows delicate tracery against winter's rain and snow.
     The Katsura tree is garden enchantment. It is our universe up close. It is peerless in its autumnal majesty, and for all the other moments in a year, the Katsura's elegant beauty is gift enough.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Where Do You Go, My Lovely?

     Where do you go, when you're sitting in that meeting so full of acronyms and good-feeling mission statements? When the light shines through just one tiny corner of the window and strikes an important piece of crystal corporate art just so - opening wide the full spectrum of visible color - and you're the only one who notices it? When voices around the table sound no more distinct than the caw of an individual crow in a full murder?
     Do you sit numbly, smiling and nodding, or frowning and shaking your head,  as befits the topic at hand? If so, can you feel your soul shrinking, your energy drawing in tightly, like a shroud? No more the rays of enthusiasm that emanate and enchant others when you are feeling alive. No more the glow. No more.
     It doesn't have to be that way.
     You can decide in advance of a deadly meeting or any other unwelcome event just how you will face it. You can decide in this moment. Will you be present? Or will you dissociate so completely that you don't even hear your own name?
     Being present does not mean having to endure the pain of something you don't want to do in the first place. It can also mean being hyper-present: alert to all the information your senses bombard you with in any given moment. In a meeting, you can hear the tone of each voice, feel the firmness of chair upon you sit, become aware of the mixed aromas of coffee, muffins, aftershave, perfume. You can extend this alertness to include all the tools in your imagination. This is a moment that will never come again. It is a moment in your life.
     We often allow ourselves to feel bored when things aren't captivating to us. But isn't that a big demand to place on things we cannot control anyway? Such as a meeting? Why constrict your experience so tightly? Why create boredom for yourself? Because you do create it, you know. You create it by having such narrow guidelines about what interests you.
     If you expand those guidelines way out to the edges of the universe, all of a sudden there is room for wonder once again in your life. You remember wonder. You felt it as a child. One of the reasons you felt it then was that you had not been hardened by your life's experiences into expecting one thing to happen, preferring one thing over another, and deciding that you absolutely detest certain things. Time and your life did that do you. And  you can undo it.
     I believe there is no place or situation on this Earth where a sensitive person can truly be bored. You have the universe inside of you. Pull a piece or two out and toss it around next time you're feeling that numbness begin to crawl up your legs. Allow yourself to see colors streaming through the room. Hear the musicality or lack of it in someone's voice. Imagine what would happen if everyone's hair disappeared all at once.
     You will love it. Every minute of it. You will love that meeting.
     You will be present.
     You will hear your name.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Time, Time, Time

     Strains of A Hazy Shade of Winter rolled through my mind this morning. It is the first day of summer, so the weather had nothing to do with it. Rather, it is the opening lines..."Time, time, time, look what's become of me..." that I heard so loudly and clearly, as if I had never heard them before.
     How time gets away from us all! At one point in my life, not too long ago, this blog was of paramount importance; it allowed me the opportunity to explore topics I seldom had an outlet for in my daily life. Now that I am a practicing therapist, I have less time available to discuss such things, and unfortunately, even less time to write about them.
     So it is time to make the time.
     It passes inexorably anyway. There's nothing to be done about that. If something is important, you will do it; if it is not, you won't do it. That's true, but it's only true to the extent that we allow ourselves to act on our impulses, to acknowledge what it is that derives from true passion, straight from the heart.
     We get snagged so easily by the quotidian aspects of existence. Our precious allotment of time on this earth slips away unremarked, and what we have to show for it is often a body of work, if you will, that could bear the signature of any number of people: reports written, meetings attended, vacations taken, and cocktails imbibed. Is there a unique mark on any of those experiences, anything that suggests that you, and only you, could possibly have brought them into being?
     For most of us, the answer is probably not one that we would like to see carved on a tombstone: Did a lot of stuff, but frankly, most of it could have been done by anybody.
     I am back to the exploration of ideas. I am back to exploring them in the manner I alone can do. It's not earthshaking news, nor thunderous accomplishment. But it is authentic, it derives from my deepest gifts and talents, and, most importantly, it sustains me.
     It may just be a footprint in ever-shifting sands. But it is my footprint, mine alone, and for this minute I am here in all my uniqueness and particularity.
     I want to explore ideas once again, say I to myself. I'm willing to make the time.
     Permission granted, say I to myself in reply. Proceed - no caution required.
     That's all it takes for one to soar.