On a cold and wintery day a couple of years ago, I was hiking in one of my favorite parks, when I ran across a young boy about 8 with his mother. Anxious to share all of my nature knowledge, I was telling the little boy about winter ecology, in particular why trees lose their leaves in winter—to conserve water, to keep from freezing, to cast weight, etc.
Then I pointed to a few young trees—oaks and beeches—that have kept their leaves. I told him scientists are not quite sure why they do that and then outlined a few theories—perhaps to trap snow or to slow decomposition of the leaves, so they drop in the spring when the trees need the fertile soil. Finally, I asked him: "Why do you think those trees keep their leaves?" Without hesitating, he replied: "Well they don't lose them 'cuz they don't haveta." Wow. Marcescence—trees holding onto leaves—has been a mystery to me (and a lot of scientists) for years. And it never occurred to me until that day—when I finally stopped talking at the young boy and started listening—that I might be looking at the question upside down. Maybe these trees just lack the motivation for dropping their leaves, rather than having a rationale for keeping them. The little boy's answer has really stayed with me and has caused me to wonder what other obvious answers I am missing—both ecologically and spiritually. I had accepted traditional spirituality which emphasizes kenosis—emptying, shedding, ridding, paring down. I began to wonder if all that effort was in fact—just that—effort. And doing what was expected of one on a spiritual journey. Sure, shedding has spiritual and ecological purpose, but maybe sometimes you just "don't haveta." I find myself wondering if there are elements of ourselves and our lives that are light enough not to burden our spiritual quest, and don't impede upon our opening ourselves to the Divine Mystery. Perhaps there's even purpose in those dead leaves that we retain, even though we might not know why. As new tree buds form, the old dead leaves will, in fact, drop off, in due time, on their own accord with no effort from any of us. This shedding is a natural process that we don't have to force or make happen. We can relax into our natural processes and maybe just keep our leaves—if they're not weighing us down—cause we just don't haveta do anything else.