The Golden Tree
Gracie Chattin

My mind drifts with the breeze which swirls the leaves around on the dull pavement. My sneakers swim in a perfect pool of gold beneath the two trees. I survey the ground for more leaves. My hands stuffed in my coat pockets of leathery sunshine to protect themselves from the creeping brisk air. My fingers, safe inside my pocket, run along the straight veins of a leaf, riddled with spots and a split down the middle. Its fan shape a comfortable perfection for my thumb to rest. There is love in this damaged yellow leaf, old love with a split down the middle. Today a leaf of burning gold but soon it will be hard pressed in the leaves of a book. Stuck in the dark recesses where words go to be lost. Lost like chlorophyll pigmentation when the days grow shorter, and brisk chills begin to creep. The xanthophyll pigment finally showing off its brilliant yellows, now and only for a short while is it able to shine in the chlorophyll’s absence.
There are two trees in that spot, right next to each other but all alone. Their canopies joined as if one, not joining again till the depths of their roots. Together they stand alone on the street dwarfed by oaks and magnolias whom God allowed to grow much taller than themselves. Those two trees do not know how or why they are still here as living fossils in a foreign land on Westmoreland Place. I wonder as I look up at their intertwined branches if one would be able to survive without the other. If one were to be plagued by some disease, or termites, or lightning, how would the other tree fare? Would it grow stronger with the increase of light and nutrients? Or would it be too great a loss, too great a suffering to withstand?
Those trees, though they may feel alone, are not alone. They are simply scattered into the neighborhoods and on the corners of city blocks, unlike the forests of oak trees all around. Those great giants are so numerous that many streets here follow in their namesake. Twin Oaks, Tall Oaks, Fair Oaks, and even Whispering Oaks although oaks don’t seem to whisper their presence. I favor the rare beauty of the two golden trees.
The golden trees are sprinkled along East Main. Their roots confined in concrete boxes, watching dreary people drive by without so much as a second glance to their shining glory. What trees? Their golden yellows are like the canvas of an overambitious painter with fresh bottles of Burnt Ocher, Strontium Chromate, Aureolin, and Cadmium Yellow which have exploded on to the street as a show of independence. My car bumps and skips over the crosswalk, surrounded by the fleeting golden glow of the Gingko.
I have noticed a variety in the leaves which were so singular in nature. Not all leaves are whole, some are designed with a split. What once seemed so unnatural to me is now all I know. The immature green leaves are perfect and without a split, like a young girl who loves her father, seeing no fault in him, loving him fully. These leaves belong to a tree who is the only survivor of the gingko genus, classified in the family of Ginkgoaceae. It is an anomaly of flora, with no remaining relatives, and an inability to be classified with other plants. Its unpleasant fruit and unique leaves set it apart. The Gingko Biloba was initially named merely Biloba for the multiplicity in the lobes of the leaf, bi- meaning two and -loba for the way that some leaves are split into lobes. It was later that the tree became known as the Gingko tree. The species now inhabits cityscapes, parks, and residential neighborhoods across the world. Almost every home I’ve ever known has had a Gingko tree neighbor, and a very young Gingko greets me each morning as I walk into school. A line of Gingko’s stands tall behind me in my senior pictures, clad in their brilliant November yellow, and there is always a tiny golden gingko leaf around my neck as a reminder of the good gifts God gives us even when we stand at the edge of great suffering.
I stand under those two trees now a young woman remembering my childish steps and bobbing pigtails. Children walk haphazardly, they meander down paths, without great urgency or direction. The greater purposes which drive a mature person are foreign to a small child. When do we become no longer a child, when we walk down the sidewalk calmly? Or is it early in November when the leaves begin to change? Regardless, my little brown pigtails bobbed with each step upon the crunchy brown leaves as we passed piles blown to the curb from the lawns of our neighbors. Perfect piles for an eight-year-old to jump in. All leaves were the same to me until that day under the two trees when I found the golden princess leaves which were the perfect size for an eight-year-old and a five-year-old to fan each other with, as if we were regal heirs to a throne, expecting to be fanned despite the chill of autumn.
The love pouring into and out of that eight-year-old was great, and pure. It was un-weathered and whole, like an immature gingko leaf which had not yet developed a split across its smooth surface. Love is a funny thing. It comes and goes with the seasons just as the days grow longer in the warm summer and shorter in the chill of winter.
Love is there even when the time changes on a Sunday in March, an almost forgotten eight years after my world was rearranged, after my childish love for one so dear was wounded. Those kinds of wounds are only healed by time, if there is time afforded to their healing.
There are leaves with that ever-familiar split and then there are whole leaves who provide a picture of perfection, a broad fan without blemish. All of these begin their lives as tiny buds of green shooting out as spring breathes her first. These miniature leaves of vibrant green begin to fill the branches, but they all start the same. Each leaf begins whole. It is only as it grows that it develops these predestined blemishes, but what are they without their blemishes? They are just leaves all of them, A new life which grows and grows until it can’t anymore. Until it finds itself a subject of beauty, finally appreciated in its golden glow for just a month in the fall. Then they fall. Trampled underfoot, and blown to the street, their golden glory painting the ground before the cold darkness of the winter finishes its creeping and finally settles in.
When the leaves were green and new to life the world around them was beautiful and fresh. Surrounded by pink blossoms and new beginnings, watching life unfold for the first time. Basking in the warmth of the late summer sun and overlooked in a sea of green. And finally old and weathered, their separation layer at the stem cutting the leaf off from the rich nutrients from the woody heart of the tree. There is a time when we can’t grow any more, when all that’s left is to say goodbye. A time when we must move on without those we have grown with. Those who we weathered storms with, and bore the heat of summer with, together. Those who we share our broken splits with, who watched us change. We are soon to go on to greater things, some of us memorialized betwixt the pages of a book, some of us framed in our most glorified golden state, but most of us will return to the earth, to provide nutrients to the new leaves shooting out in the spring where we will watch them take their first wobbly steps of life and fall.
I’ve always wondered why the Gingko is golden, maybe it is because of the genetic makeup of the leaf and the prevalence of the xanthophyll pigment. But I believe it's because the strongest most beautiful things are the things that have been broken, whose love has been split down the middle and despite this has grown and become something golden.

Gracie Chattin