I look from the front porch at our sycamore on summer evenings and note with pleasure that it’s a curtain of green.
From early autumn through late winter, the tree sheds hundreds of leaves, each the size of a dinner plate, and their bulk defeats the bravest rake or lawnmower.
For much of the year, we resign ourselves to tree litter that rolls through the yard like sagebrush.
From football season through Mardi Gras, I often look at the leavings of the sycamore and recall that Robert Frost once opened one of his autumn poems by declaring, “The same leaves over and over again!” Even Frost, who had a way of seeing the new in the old, could get bored with the monotony of falling leaves.
But in summer, when our sycamore is its good, green self, the tree’s big leaves perform a useful service, creating a canopy of shade that throws long, luxuriant shadows across the lawn. As reliably as any sundial, the march of the sycamore’s silhouette tells me of a summer day’s progress from dawn to dusk.
Yet even in July, when leaves rest within the sycamore’s canopy as firmly as the jewels of a crown, the tree continues to make work for us, shedding much of its bark.
Papery rinds from the tree’s outer surface rest in a lively scatter near the roots, reminding me of the discarded drafts a poet might leave around his desk as he refines a sonnet.
My children once welcomed these sheddings of sycamore bark as a novelty, gathering long pieces of the stuff and scribbling messages on it — a youngster’s answer to the papyrus that Egyptians used when the world was young.
But my son and daughter are no longer young enough to greet a shedding sycamore as an occasion for wonder, and so now it falls to their father, who has somehow never grown up, to notice and think about what the old tree is up to.
What I like about the tree’s change of wardrobe, I suppose, is its abiding reminder that all of us are capable of constant reinvention and renewal. That’s an idea with special currency in summer, a season when many of us try on new selves as casually as we slip on a pair of flip-flops.
These are the weeks, after all, when we wear loud, tropical shirts, and eat outside under the stars, and take road trips that allow us, in ways large and small, to be different people than we are back home.
But I remember, glancing out at the sycamore from the porch each evening, that there is also joy in standing still and being quiet on summer days.
The angel trumpet near my porch stoop gets its name because the plant makes showy blossoms that flute out like a heavenly horn in a nativity scene.
The angel trumpet is silent, though, its eloquence expressed by the simple gesture of rooting in place and inviting me to look its way.
I’m trying to pay attention to the season while I can, heeding some words from journalist Bob Greene that I quote each July.
“Keep an eye on summer,” Greene writes. “Savor every day, every summer night.”
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