This morning we awoke to an early light snow that created an unusual juxtaposition of autumn and winter, at least in our back yard where several trees stubbornly cling to most of their leaves. Passing through the family room en route to refilling my coffee, I noticed the gingko leaves rapidly falling, starting from the bottom branches and by that point at the middle. From the pace, it was clear that the whole tree would be bare by lunch time. The gingko’s tendency for a quick leaf drop is often called “gingko rain.” I paused a moment to note this phenomenon, then went on with the morning. Shortly after 11:00, walking by the picture window again, I saw the gingko leaves atop the snow like sprinkles on white frosting. A sudden anxious regret came over me that I had not photographed the tree before this rapid transition, had missed my chance to preserve the now stark branches while still laden with golden leaves. My attention now fully on the tree, I took the photos published here and then sat down to simply watch the few remaining leaves gently drop off.
“The beauty of letting go” is what rose up within as I sat observing the gingko. Released from the branch at just the right moment, its fan-shaped leaves soar gracefully in the breeze, land softly. This image called to mind the final scene in Charlotte’s Web, when the baby spiders take off from the barn yard leaving Wilbur bereft. One spider explains, “We’re leaving here on the warm updraft. This is our moment for setting forth.”
In this time of environmental disaster, the gingko tree stands tall as a tale of survival and resilience. Remarkably, it’s considered a living fossil, unchanged for more than 200 million years and with no living relatives. While rare in the wild, human cultivation led to its proliferation. The ginkgo is the national tree of its native China where it is considered a sign of longevity due to its extremely long life span of 1,000 years or more. A popular image in Japanese art, the gingko became a “bearer of hope” and symbol of resilience and peace in Japan when six ginkgo trees were among the few living things to survive the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945; they continue to live today. The gingko made its way to Europe and then North America beginning in the 18th century, and this hardy tree is now common in urban settings.