This autumn leaf photo is one that I took on a nature walk with my kiddos several years ago. To me, it’s always a representation of autumn that reminds me of one of our family’s favorite read-aloud books. Believe it or not, one of the most touching and memorable chapters from any book we’ve ever read as a family was Chapter Eight in Felix Salten’s classic tale, Bambi: A Life in the Woods. There wasn’t a deer or thumping rabbit to be seen in this short chapter. Just two leaves talking to each other in the autumn of their lives. “[T]he book, however, is nothing like the Disney movie. It’s much richer, much more realistic, a parable about growing up and growing old.” (from a Bambi review).
I found a YouTube radio dramatization of the chapter just now. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Og6sgvFHwLQ
The leaves were falling from the great oak at the meadow’s edge. They were falling from the trees.
One branch of the oak reached high above the others and stretched far out over the meadow. Two leaves clung to its very tip.
“It isn’t the way it used to be,” said one leaf to the other.
“No,” the other leaf answered. “So many of us have fallen off to-night we’re almost the only ones left on our branch.”
“You never know who’s going to go next,” said the first leaf. “Even when it was warm and the sun shone, a storm or a cloudburst would come sometimes, and many leaves were torn off, though they were still young. You never know who’s going to go next.”
“The sun seldom shines now,” sighed the second leaf, “and when it does it gives no warmth. We must have warmth again.”
“Can it be true,” said the first leaf, “can it really be true, that others come to take our places when we’re gone and after them still others, and more and more?”
“It is really true,” whispered the second leaf. “We can’t even begin to imagine it, it’s beyond our powers.”
“It makes me very sad,” added the first leaf.
They were silent for a while. Then the first leaf said quietly to herself, “Why must we fall?…”
The second leaf asked, “What happens to us when we have fallen?”
“We sink down….”
“What is under us?”
The first leaf answered, “I don’t know, some say one thing, some another, but nobody knows.”
The second leaf asked, “Do we feel anything, do we know anything about ourselves when we’re down there?”
The first leaf answered, “Who knows? Not one of all those down there has ever come back to tell us about it.”
They were silent again. Then the first leaf said tenderly to the other, “Don’t worry so much about it, you’re trembling.”
“That’s nothing,” the second leaf answered, “I tremble at the least thing now. I don’t feel so sure of my hold as I used to.”
“Let’s not talk any more about such things,” said the first leaf.
The other replied, “No, we’ll let be. But– what else shall we talk about?”
She was silent, but went on after a little while, “Which of us will go first?”
“There’s still plenty of time to worry about that,” the other leaf assured her. “Let’s remember how beautiful it was, how wonderful, when the sun came out and shone so warmly that we thought we’d burst with life. Do you remember? And the morning dew, and the mild and splendid nights….”
“Now the nights are dreadful,” the second leaf complained, “and there is no end to them.”
“We shouldn’t complain,” said the first leaf gently. “We’ve outlived many, many others.”
“Have I changed much?” asked the second leaf shyly but determinedly.
“Not in the least,” the first leaf assured her.
“You only think so because I’ve got to be so yellow and ugly. But it’s different in your case.”
“You’re fooling me,” the second leaf said.
“No, really,” the first leaf exclaimed eagerly. “Believe me, you’re as lovely as the day you were born. Here and there may be a little yellow spot but it’s hardly noticeable and only makes you handsomer, believe me.”
“Thanks,” whispered the second leaf, quite touched. “I don’t believe you, not altogether, but I thank you because you’re so kind, you’ve always been so kind to me. I’m just beginning to understand how kind you are.”
“Hush,” said the other leaf, and kept silent herself for she was too troubled to talk anymore.
Then they were both silent. Hours passed.
A moist wind blew, cold and hostile, through the tree tops.
“Ah, now,” said the second leaf, “I…..” Then her voice broke off. She was torn from her place and spun down.
Winter had come.
Excerpted from Bambi: A Life in the Woods – Chapter 8 – “Winter”