The Year the Leaves Didn’t Turn

Greetings Gentle Reader,

Please enjoy this rather atypical blog post. It is a short story I wrote after my grandfather died last fall. My goal is to publish it as an illustrated picture book (illustrated by me 🙂 in the manner of Barbara Cooney.

With love – Melinda

~~~~~~~~~

October is a month for magic and mystery. So is December. But it is a very different kind of magic. December is the merriment of holly and ivy; of frosty cheeks warmed by hot chocolate and marshmallows; the sweet scent of pine. In October a burst of blazen color ignites the crystalline sunlight; the silver mist of the witching hour lingers in the air, on the skin, in the soul; the promise of midnight.

Emeline unrolled her new “Autumn Leaves” map and hung it next to the others in her bedroom. Using a system of pushpins, handwritten notes and stickers Emeline tracked various elements of the natural world such as the greening of the grass in Spring and the rate of snowfall at Christmas. Her interest in such things began as an assignment in first grade.

“For one week I want you to watch the daffodils. Record their progress on this handout. We’ll go over them together next week,” said her teacher Ms.Cannon.

October was her favorite month. From her observations Emeline knew that the leaves around her farmhouse in Southern Maine began to turn in August. Depending on the weather conditions it could be just a few, or if things had been really dry, whole trees would be covered with brown leaves. This summer had been perfect. Not too hot, not too cold; not too wet and not too dry. The Farmer’s Almanac was predicting the most spectacular Autumn in a century. But Mother Nature is anything but predictable.

Everyday Emeline took a walk in the woods behind her house, looking for signs of October. She looked for it in the cooling night air, the slow disappearance of mosquitos, and the few leaves turning red, orange and gold; she watched for the mists, thin and vaporous at first then denser and denser until she could no longer see her out-stretched hand.

In the August before 5th grade Emeline saw only green. “Perhaps I am too early,” she thought, “I’ll come back tomorrow.” And she did; and the next day and the day after that. She came everyday for a week and for the week after that. Emeline was getting worried. It was September now, school had started, the air cooled, the mosquitos were disappearing, a fine mist settled on the morning air but she hadn’t put a single red, orange or yellow pushpin on her map.That was the year the leaves did not turn. At first, Emeline thought she was the only person who noticed. But she was not. It was not something most adults would admit. Soon, their silent anxiety, their suspicion that the mind must be going, gave way to whispers of concern.

“Have you seen…?”
“No.”

The first report aired on Channel 5 News at 6, then again at 10:30 and 11. Within hours it was all over the Internet. The following evening it was the lead story on all of the major networks.

“Good Evening. No doubt you’ve heard by now the strange news that the leaves in what is normally the most colorful region of the country, are not turning.”

Each night stories came flooding in. In Montana, the Dakotas, Colorado, the leaves had not started to turn. The reports from Canada were just the same (though they’d been issued days earlier and ignored). Meteorologists, climatologists, biologists, were stumped. All they could do was speculate; global warming, climate change, polluted rivers, none of it made sense. The weather had been so perfect.

If what she thought was actually happening Emeline had a sneaking suspicion she would need only green pushpins. She used her allowance money to buy another box. This was going to be hard to track. She sat cross legged on her bedroom floor and looked up at her maps. Her father swore he could see actual gears turning in her head. After some time Emeline stood up, transferred the dates from last year’s map onto the new one and hoped that as each one arrived she’d be able to use a red, orange or yellow pin.

But as day turned to night and back into day, as the cool air headed south displacing Summer’s heat, nothing changed. By mid-October Emeline had given up all hope for a colorful fall. She watched to see what would happen in the South, where the leaves don’t reach their peak until November. But in Virginia and Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama, Texas and the High Desert, all that remained was green.The night of the President’s first address on the subject her parents invited friends over to dinner. Emeline wasn’t too pleased about this because it meant that Jimmy was coming too. Jimmy was a year older than Emeline. They’d been friends and playmates when they were little but Jimmy didn’t like science and teased her about her maps; and her glasses.

“Now, James Holden, you behave yourself tonight. Be nice to Emeline. You don’t tease your friends” his mother directed as they walked to the front door.
He kicked the dirt.

Emeline picked at her plate of chicken and mashed potatoes while the adults discussed the latest collapse of the Red Sox pitching staff, the unusual number of people attending Sunday services, the bushels of apples they’d picked and the run on canned goods, water and ammunition down at Foster’s Provisions.

“Emeline, how are your maps coming this year?” asked Mr. Holden, “How are you handling this leaf situation.”
“Well…” said Emeline, growing more and more excited as she explained the new system of dates and green pushpins.

After dinner Emeline helped her dad with the dishes then joined her mother and the Holdens in the living room. Jimmy lay on his stomach, chin propped up in his hands. He may not like science, but he liked the President and wanted to hear what she had to say. Emeline sat on her knees, notebook and pen in hand.The President didn’t say much in the way of comfort. She and other world leaders had listened to the advice of climate experts and come up with a plan should one be needed. Though what that was or why they would need one she didn’t say.

“In this time when we all feel anxious or afraid I urge you: Count your blessings, keep doing the work that makes this country great… God Bless You and God Bless the United States of America. Good night.”

“Well, that was a whole lot of nothing” said Emeline’s father as he turned the channel to the post speech analysis.
“Shut it off, hon” said her mother, “let’s just enjoy the rest of our evening.”

Over coffee and hot apple pie they tried to stick to topics of everyday life but again and again, the conversation returned to the strange situation with the leaves.

In all other ways October was the same as it ever was: the sky was clear and bright, the air crisped and the morning mist thickened; the squash and apples and pumpkins grew plump and abundant in markets and road side farm stands, chrysanthemums bloomed. Stores across the country stocked and sold autumnal fare: cinnamon spice scented candles, plaid tablecloths in crimson and brown, wreaths and garlands of artificial leaves manufactured in China (where the leaves had also not turned.) Front lawns were decorated with pumpkins, corn husks, hay bales and scarecrows.

To the surprise of all, people who’d been hoping for years to see New England in the fall kept their travel plans.  Tourist trains went up and down Mt. Washington; kayakers navigated the Penobscot; thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail who started the summer in Georgia reached the summit of Mt. Katahdin sporting T-shirts that read I hiked the AT so fast it stayed green.”

“Maybe this is what October’s like for the folks in the south” said Mr. Holden. It wasn’t.

A strange new magic hung in the air; a dense electricity, silent, powerful, rumbling like a distant train; the feeling that midnight might never arrive, or worse, arrive too soon. At Walden people sat, dazed on its misty shores. There were no red, orange and gold leaves to press between wax paper and hang in the kitchen window; no piles to jump in, and only acorns to crunch under foot. There were no stain glass sunsets but the evening light was just as fragmented in its beauty.

As Halloween approached pumpkins were carved into jack-o-lanterns and garbage bag ghosts and spiders hung from the trees. Emeline’s map was now covered in green pushpins. It was a stark contrast to the fiery colors on the maps from Autumns past.

Jimmy was just as excited about candy as he’d ever been and wanted to trick-or-treat as a pile of leaves. His mother said that was insensitive. He shrugged and went as a skeleton. Emeline usually enjoyed Halloween. This year wasn’t so much fun. Not only had she dressed up as Marie Curie and kept having to explain her costume, but their trick-or-treating was accompanied not by the ghastly fingers of nearly naked trees but by an eerie canopy of leaves blocking the moon and the stars.

A week into November the weather turned cold. Emeline sat on the floor by the fireplace, her head resting on the hearth.

“Emeline?”
“Yes.”
“What are you thinking about?” her mother asked as she knelt down next to her daughter.
“Well. I was just wondering. The leaves didn’t turn, but everything else seems to have happened right on schedule. We had Halloween, but it wasn’t the same.  Thanksgiving isn’t much more than a meal and a parade, but what about Christmas?”
“Oh, you can’t stop Christmas” said her mother. And she was right.

As November slid into December the anxiety over the leaves was channeled into a new fervor for the Holiday season. More twinkle lights were stapled to houses, more electric candles placed in windows. People who usually put up an artificial Christmas tree opted for a fresh Frasier Fir or Scotch Pine,  the taller the better. Christmas carolers went door to door.  Advent wreathes were lit and calendars opened. The news stopped reporting on the strange situation with the leaves.

On December 24th, Emeline left a plate of milk and cookies by the fireplace. She knew she was too old for this sort of thing but the business with the leaves was really getting to her. Everything had been set for a perfect fall but if something as important as the leaves changing could simply not happen, perhaps, despite their efforts, Christmas would stop showing up too. But it didn’t. She awoke the next morning to a blanket of falling snow, presents under the tree, a fire in the hearth and baby Jesus in the manger of their creshe.

And so the Holidays came and went and soon the new year arrived. Emeline tracked the snowfall. It had started right on time and so far, was following all of the average records. She wondered how the delicate maple leaves could bear the weight of the heavy snow. By mid-January everyone was pretty much use to seeing the added greenery and were surprised to find just how much it did to lift the winter gloom.In late March the cold began to thaw and Emeline rolled out her “Daffodil and Other Spring Flora” map, though she knew it would be a while longer before the little pockets of sunshine poked up through the muddy earth. But poke through they did and soon the April showers brought May flowers,

“And you know what May flowers bring?”
“What?” said Emeline, trying to puzzle it out.
“Pilgrims!” Jimmy laughed, tickled by his own genius.

It was pretty funny, Emeline thought.

Everyday life continued just as it had always been. Green was supposed to be there in the Spring, June was the month for weddings and July for swimming, Bar-B-Qs, and Red, White and Blue. For awhile people, even Emeline, forgot there was something to worry to about. But as the August heat reached its breaking point and the last lighting bugs of summer lit the night, anxiety returned.

Emeline bought a new map for tracking the Autumn leaves and a new box of multicolor pushpins. She hung the map on the wall next to the others, gathered her backpack with notebook, pen and other necessities of science, took a deep breath and set out on her daily walk.

To her dismay Jimmy, who’d gotten a little taller over the summer, was waiting by the trees.

“Want some company?” he asked.
“Not really.”
“Too bad.”

They walked deep into the woods, Jimmy laughing and telling jokes all the way. To her surprise she found him funny again. His jokes were still pretty dumb, but at least he wasn’t teasing her anymore. She was even more surprised to find that she’d been following him and was now unsure of their location.

“Jimmy, where are we?”
“Hang on, Em, just a little bit farther.”

When they came to a stream Emeline stopped. She was tired of hiking and just wanted to observe. She removed her backpack and sat down on a rock.

“Pretty huh?” Jimmy boasted.
“Sure is. How’d you find it?”
He shrugged.

Emeline took the notebook and pen from her pack, opened to a blank page and looked out over the water, scanning the trees.

“Look!” she cried.
“What?! Where?!” said Jimmy with a bit too much gusto.
“Over there. Look!”

Across the water, through the tangle of oak and hawthorne, was a single, yellow leaf.

“Oh Jimmy it’s beautiful!”
“I know,” he said as he reached in his pocket, then handed Emeline a pushpin.

October, the month for magic and mystery looked down and smiled.

Birthing-Day Thank You

Growing up, the writing of thank you notes was just as important a part of birthdays and Christmas as was receiving all the presents. They would generally go something like this…

“Dear Granddad & Aunt Betty, Thank you for the swatch-watch, sticker book and $10, I love them! I really enjoy mixing and matching so the swatch-watch is great. With my $10 dollars I plan to buy a journal to put my stickers in. Thank you again, Love, Melinda” 

A few years ago, when one of my many uncles turned 50, he sent my grandmother a video that included a “Happy Birth-ing Day” message. I like this idea. So on this my 32nd birthday, I offer an open birthing – day thank you note to my parents. And I encourage you, gentle reader, to ponder who and what will you be thankful for on your birthing day? Give it some contemplation, and send that someone a birthing-day card!

Dear Mom & Dad, 

Thank you for the talking Super Grover doll. I love it! More importantly, thank you for birthing in me a childlike sense of wonder and play and silliness, and a recognition that just about all we need to know to live a rich and beautiful life can be found in wonder and play and silliness. 

Speaking of silliness, thank you for family Star Trek night*. Not only do I have some excellent geeky pop-know how and the ability to find elegant themes in even the dorkiest of situations, I also learned that a bit of playfulness, rest and time spent with loved ones is an excellent technique for getting out of one’s way and acquiring focus before an intense task. 

Speaking of intense tasks, thank you for showing me how to take care of myself during intense times. That’s it’s ok, even necessary, to take breaks. And more importantly, for birthing in me the seed abilities to live in intense and interesting times with faith and hope and Grace.

Speaking of Grace, thank you for birthing in me a spirit of inquiry and discovery and love of the Divine. Thank you for never ever forcing belief of any sort but for simply providing the fertile ground in which to grow. May I offer this same sacred fertile ground of openness and inquiry in which others may grow. 

Speaking of growth, thank you for always nourishing me with unconditional support and love and birthing in me the seed ability to do the same, no matter how challenging or laborious it may at times feel.

Speaking of labor, Mom, thank you for your very real labor of love, without which, none of the above would be birthed.

I love you both, 
Melinda 

*From 1987 – 1994, Star Trek The Next Generation (TNG) aired on Saturday nights. This is also the time when my dad began his career as an Episcopal priest. Star Trek provided excellent entertainment that was wholesome and engaging for the whole family and we watched it every week. When the show ended or went on hiatus in the summer we watched movies, and the question was always “Is it a good Saturday night movie?” A good “Saturday night” movie any good movie, be it comedy, drama, sci-fi or action, that isn’t too violent or disturbing. It should be engaging, but not make you think too much. Movies that “make you think” were/are reserved for any other day of the week that does not have the special task of preaching and leading several church services and bible studies the following day. Kind of like not staying up too late on a school night. 

Currents of Grace

Dear Friends,

First, abundant thanks to everyone who put up with and participated in my incessant filming of class over the last year. It’s a bit ironic that I finally filmed the video I would have submitted for certification the day before the John Friend story broke – but hey, life can be funny like that! Your support, gentle prodding, questions and encouragement have made me the teacher I am today and I thank you.

After several weeks of observation, reflection, prayer and meditation I have resigned my Anusara-Inspired license and will no longer pursue Anusara Certification. While I feel a great deal of compassion for John and the pain he is experiencing regarding the turmoil in our community, I am increasingly disheartened by his response. In my opinion he has yet to fully accept responsibility for his actions; his latest emails have spiraled into victim mode and it appears that despite stepping down as the CEO of Anusara he will continue to have some form of controlling interest in the organization.

Even though John’s actions have precipitated the tumultuous events of the last several weeks and played a huge part in my decision to resign, I must admit that my resignation is not solely due to a desire to distance myself from John.

The Method of Anusara yoga is exquisite and I thank John for gifting it to us all. Just as there are very precise bio-mechanical techniques and parameters applied to the body during asana there are equally precise techniques for teaching the method and high professional standards for keeping these techniques in place. One of the most basic principles of the practice is to create balanced action between stability and freedom through optimal contraction and expansion of the breath, muscles, and tissue. Too much contraction creates too much stability and blocks freedom of movement; too much expansion without contraction can pull the body beyond safety (ever seen my shoulders pop out of place in handstand!) and send the Breath wandering aimlessly.

But how do we know if there is too much stability or too much freedom? Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we have to be shown. Sometimes we have to be offered a stark contrast to increase our knowing. This is what the current Anusara crisis has afforded me and many others: the opportunity to recognize that our professional muscles have been over-engaged, stability has become constriction and freedom of movement stifled.

The past seven years in Anusara have made me a better student, a skilled teacher and most importantly, a happier person and a better human-Being. I remain committed to my mission to empower you to love the life you were given and to live brilliantly from your Heart by meeting the sacred in every moment through the yogic Art of Life. I will continue to teach the method of Anusara yoga and look forward to watching this elegant method evolve organically through myself and others. There are several projects on the horizon including another Yoga 101, an Empower Practice and other creative workshops to enrich your practice and your life. I look forward to sharing them with you!

On Sunday, March 25th, Lila Rasa Brown, Michelle Corey, Hayley Hedges and I will co-teach an Open-level Community Practice from 9 – 11am at EVOLVE Cameron village, followed by an informal lunch and group discussion. This is a free event, but I encourage you to sign-up in advance so we know how many folks to expect. See you there!

Last, I would like to leave you with the visual that has been residing in my head and heart for the last few weeks.

Shakti-nipata-anusarena shisyo ‘augraham guranam-arati
Kularnava Tantra – 14.38

“By stepping into the Current of Divine Grace, the true seeker becomes ready and able, empowered to realize his/her own Greatness.”

I see a ship, a three masted frigate sailing toward a bright sun, low and glowing in the pink horizon. I do not know if it’s a sunrise or a sunset. It doesn’t matter. I am no longer aboard. I, like many others, are being pulled through the water, clinging to black ropes that trail behind the vessel. This pulling is too much – we’re holding each other back, this ship and I.

I take a breath.
I let go of the rope.

Startled at first, I flail, then begin to tread in the water: heavy, stunned, sad. I’ve done it. The ship sails on, lighter now as it continues its journey toward the sun. I harbor no ill will. I wish it and all aboard well. Then, I smile, lay back in the caress of the water and float, not alone, but finally free in the Ocean of Grace.

May we all step more fully into the the currents of Grace.

With all my love gratitude,
Melinda

Working Backwards

Dear Friends,

Thank you all for your well wishes and immense support during these last few weeks. It has meant the world to me and helped keep me grounded in what really matters: service to God, to you and to the Yoga.

My trip to Miami was, to say the least, intense. I made a point to practice detachment and observation, not to get sucked into charisma, but also to remain open and loving. While I felt kind of bad I felt kind of bad being so sharply critical, I think it was necessary as I quickly saw many discrepancies in John’s words, teaching and actions. In my opinion, and from what John has said, the allegations against him are true, though we may never know to what extent. As Lila said, he remains cloaked by Shiva’s magic mirror (the mirror that reflects the Absolute in limited form thus “cloaking or inverting” the ultimate Reality but making the revelation of the full Self that much sweeter) – this is necessary to a degree because if he were to see everything at once he would probably be overwhelmed beyond reason. It is my most humble prayer that he remain held by the light of Grace during the revelation of all things, both good and bad, in the fullness of time. I give thanks for all that he has offered us and send him compassion and support for the difficult road he is now traversing. We cannot know his path, but pray it leads to an genuine experience of his highest good.

As for Anusara, Inc,. I do not know what will happen. John has agreed to step down – though we don’t yet know what that means – and take a leave of absence from teaching – we don’t know for how long. I’m cautiously optimistic about the organization being shifted into one that is vibrant, healthy and community run, but am still unsure what, if any, place I will have in it. Rest assured that regardless of my licensing decision, I remain committed as ever to teaching the Anusara method in all it’s beauty, elegance and precision.

Last night I dreamed of my grandfather. As we passed each other on the street, he smiled, reached out to say hello and wished me well. He was dressed as debonair as ever and for the first time in years looked joyful, robust, and radiant. He wasn’t young but he wasn’t old either. He was about 72, the age he was when he met Betty, his third wife, and the woman who opened him up to the experience of receiving and more importantly sharing love, even if just for her.

In my time on this earth I haven’t personally experienced much death. My maternal grandfather died when I was 3, my maternal grandmother when I was 20. My paternal grandfather died last September. From the moment he stepped out his retirement home, to entering the hospital, and then finally, in hospice, I was with him often. My first thoughts of granddad are of those final days: the shock at seeing him pale, grey, thin and shrivelled, shaking in his bed; peaceful in hospice as his breath slowed. I have to work backwards from here. I don’t want these to be my only memories of him so I focus and recall: showing up in his Sunday best to take me to a job interview; patiently (which was a miracle for him) learning to check stock prices on the internet; lunch at Wendy’s; Christmas in ’94; driving too fast over the hills in Providence, RI with Betty in the front seat yelling in her best Carolina drawl “Roy! You slow down now Roy, there are children in this car!” These are the memories I want to have. The are the ones I want to come to mind first. But his death is still too near and still too vivid.

So is Anusara. Anusara as we have known and loved it is dead. It will never, ever be the same. And that’s ok. That’s as it should be. But I don’t want its final days of the current incarnation to be the first thing that comes to mind when I think of it. I don’t want my memory of all the sweetness and opening and powerful learning and community to be colored by the sting of betrayal, pain, secrets, lies, divisiveness and confusion. Of course we need to remember these things if we are to grow, but I don’t want us to look back and see the darkness first. I want us to see the light. This will take time. We’ll have to work backwards. In time, I hope the memory of the light will out shine the shadow.

Whatever happens now to Anusara, whether it as an organization dies today, or rebuilds to something truly spectacular; whether I am a part of the new incarnation or not, I hope to meet it again, joyful, robust, and radiant.

Thank you again, my friends, for all that you do. For all the dedication and willingness to meet the full spectrum of this life in steadfast commitment to Love. You are an inspiration and I look forward to seeing you all soon.

There is a possibility that we will be having a special community gathering/practice, co-lead by Lila, Michelle, Hayley and myself, next Thursday, March 1st, from 5:45 – 7:15 (ish) at EVOLVE Movement in Raleigh. We’re working now to make sure our schedules line up and will let you know for sure in the next few days. This will be a free class and we hope you will all come out and join us and maybe even help lead us through the practice as we continue to share the amazing journey of our Yoga.

With love and highest regard,
Melinda

Below are links to a few articles and blog posts I have found helpful in the last few days.

Lila Rasa Brown ~ 2012 is Bringing it On!
Elena Brower ~ Art of Attention: Misconduct in the (Yoga) World
Amy Ippoliti ~ Bringing My Life Back into Persepctive: What Matters Most
Denise Benitez ~ The Threshold (poem I’ve been reading in class this week)

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