The natural cycle of birth, death, and rebirth happens to include death. A word that often brings up imagery associated with fear, pain, and horror, “death” is actually a necessary and beautiful part of life that our modern culture could stand to embrace and honor more.
When I first moved to the farm, looking out into the grove I saw piles of “leaf litter” or dropped leaves from the avocado trees. I thought to myself that it would look so much prettier and more manicured if all those leaves were raked up and moved away. But I soon learned that the leaf litter, which sometimes reaches two feet in height, is made up of decomposing leaves in various stages of decay, hosting countless beneficial microorganisms, insects, and even dropped avocados that deliver nutrients back into the soil. The leaves also keep the ground covered, allowing moisture to stay in place rather than quickly dry up. In fact, the piles of leaf litter are critical to the health of the grove but my suburban-born eyes were unaccustomed to seeing beauty in the “mess” of the landscape.
Embracing the cycle of death is one way of embracing faith. We can let go of what dies, knowing that life will spring forth once again. I admit that I sometimes feel a sense of loss when a crop is harvested knowing that I won’t again taste the fruit of that tree for a whole year. But I also know that I WILL get to taste its fruit again and I’ll appreciate it far more since I cherish the tree all year long. The tree and its particular fruit come to mark the seasons and the years of my life, and they live in my memories.
For example, I know that in June when nearly all of the avocados have been harvested, there’s no reason to despair because the fig trees will soon explode with ripe fruit so delicious that the birds, bees, beetles, and field mice all want their share. And in August when the heat gets oppressive, I will have the joy of a juicy lychee fruit refreshing my palate. In late fall when the crops are waning and it feels like the season for fruit is finished, along comes the blessed persimmon, the last tree in the orchard to ripen with it’s sweet orange glow like the sunset of the fruit season.
All trees that bear fruit must drop what ripens and move on to the next phase of their life cycle. The same goes for our human lives. We must also drop things that no longer serve our best interests, and failure to do so is cause for a constant loop of suffering. The simple lessons of nature and life on the farm have so much wisdom to impart. The tree does not mourn the dropping of its blossoms or the final loss of its last piece of fruit. It knows of the falling away, the shedding of the old, the inevitability and the beauty of death. We too experience a thousand little deaths in every year, every day, every sunrise and sunset and every moment that passes.
Even our biology embraces death. As the human brain develops, connections and synapses are formed as we learn and grow. Many of these connections will become patterns that are used over and over again like a well-traveled hiking trail. What isn’t often discussed is that the pruning of connections is as important as the formation of them for a healthy brain. We must prune away the pathways that don’t lead to success. We must prune our roses to ensure a robust bloom. We must prune our fruit trees to channel the energy into the strongest limbs. Pruning is death that is inevitably followed by rebirth. Those who are wise embrace death as a natural cycle of nature; on the farm, and in our lives.