Where I live, Spring starts out like Autumn in temperate zones. Once the stillness and chill of Winter begin to recede, most trees go into a flurry of shedding their leaves- a flurry, a frenzy, a hurry….. It is as if they cannot wait to shed their old leaves and give birth to the new life waiting inside them, rising up towards the sun.
The tall Ashoka trees are the most proliferate in this new burst of activity- my yard is never leaf free. A freshly swept yard soon looks as if the owner has never taken a broom to it!
The huge Peepul trees, holy and venerated in India, which are not planted in homes, only near temples and public places, turn totally bare in March. So also most trees, whether large leaved, small leaved, long leaved or tiny leaved. There is no flaming orange Autumn in my country- the transition is from dark green to pale green, with the exception of some trees whose young leaves are a delicate pink. And then- one fine morning, one notices that the bare tree of yesterday is not quite the same. It is young again- living, vibrant, ready for another year, ready for blooming. And then the flowers and fruit follow!
(Hibiscus- but not the well known variety- these flowers do not open fully. )
As a part of the process of renewal, we get thunderstorms in April. This year there were three nights of hailstones too. I have seen hailstones perhaps once, while growing up, and never subsequently till last year, and again now in April. In my language we do have a word for hailstones- Aali-pazham- but it has always been a sort of abstract word- one with no real form to go with it, except as described by others.
The hailstorm was not brief and insubstantial this time. The ice pebbles rained down in a cacophony of sound on the tin roof, bounced down to the earth, glistened in the fading light and melted away silently.
Last night was another one of thunderstorms, but not of hail.
Yesterday I saw the wind and the power of the elements.
All elements can be violent- the Wind is no exception – at least one huge tree is uprooted and flung down by the winds each year.
Last year this time it was the turn of a giant Gulmohur tree. The Gulmohur is also called the Flame of the Forest, because its flowers are flame coloured- orange-red and prolific.
One day the tree was standing- covered with its flame flowers and the other day, there was a huge gaping hole in the ground where it had stood and the tree lay on the ground- mangled, on a carpet of its own flowers.
(Another Gulmohur in the background- Can you see the flowers?)
This year it was another tree, whose name I do not know, which shaded the school compound. It was not a young tree, judging by its girth and canopy. Perhaps it was planted in the late 1970s, when the school was constructed. The violence of its uprooting was palpable and raw. While I do recognize that the old has to give way for new life, new growth and that death is as much a certainty as life itself and that both engage in a dance which sustains creation, I touch the fallen trunk, feel the roughness of the bark and say goodbye to the spirit of the tree. I wish it well and a safe journey to wherever it may be going.
To return to last evening- Bolts of faraway lightning were already flashing across the sky by the time I reached home. The light was brown and strange. Before long the wind rose from the West- stripping branches, dried and not, whirling down the last stubborn old leaves from their hold on to the mother tree.
And the rain followed- icy cold and torrential. The wind drove rain in sheets across the landscape. The tall high mast light tower swayed dangerously to and fro on its feet. I silently hoped and prayed that the Civil Engineers who designed its foundation knew what they were doing!
The wind also flew down hidden cobwebs from their corners, raised dust and banged doors.
A child and a child-at-heart ran out to the verandah to feel the chill of the rain and the sharp points of water tipped needles on the skin. And marvelled to see the trees dancing and swaying; the earth rejoicing; Lightning flashing across the sky. Life renewing itself. And experienced a moment of unity with the Elements in all their glory.
Earth. Air. Fire. Water.