Leaves Of November

Today’s Guest Post was written by Don Casada.


Leaves of November

Smoky mtns in november

I spend a fair amount of time rambling up, down, and around by shanks mare in the Great Smoky Mountains. Here in late November, it is a time of stark contrasts. It is numbingly cold mornings followed by comforting and gloriously warm afternoons. It is see-to-forever close on the heels of the dark and the drear.

Only God Could Make A Tree

As much as we glory in the lushness of life of spring and summer as well as the dramatic colors of early fall, there is just something hauntingly beautiful about the mountains in late fall and winter. Rugged grey skeletons stand tall in ranks and rows along ridgelines and leads, keeping a watchful lookout. In many cases, they’ve had to “take holt” by sinking roots down around and even opening cracks through rocks to find sustenance below. In as fine an example of a partnership as you’re likely to find, those trees return the favor – providing protection against the elements for the rocks and soil where they’ve taken root. Down in the more sheltered coves and hollers, their cousins often grow to immense proportions; blessed by incredibly fertile soil and ever-flowing spring water. There is much to admire and love in both the gnarly and the gigantic, for as Joyce Kilmer succinctly put it, “Only God can make a tree.” If pressed to name just one aspect of nature that most defines and endears these mountains to me (and there are oh-so-many), I think I would have to say the trees. In both life and death, our mountain trees have surrounded, nourished, and sustained our forebears and us. They provide shelter from the storm, heat against the cold in winter,shade against the heat of summer, and food for both body and soul.

Trees also mark the seasons for us. Sitting here in the room where I shared a bed with my (much;-) older brother Jim as a boy and now use as an office, I can look out across Bryson City to the Alarka Mountains and watch the leaves steadily spread their way up the mountainsides and hollers in spring and then see the leaves take leave the fall in a descending instead of ascending order.

There is no finer month for fetching back fond memories than November, and no finer place to do it than here in the hills that we call home. Most of the leaves have now fallen, not only on the mountains but down in the valleys. Only a few of the younger trees, who seemingly have not yet learned the patterns of life and death, want to hold and cling.

Hiking in the smoky mtns

As you walk through the woods nowadays, you can see much – both up close and in the distance – that just a month ago was hidden from view by leaves. Now I have to say that those leaves still do some hiding – a fact to which my backside and other parts can attest.  Anyone who does much walking on a freshly-fallen layer of leaves in the mountains will eventually find themselves atop just the right combination of leaves, steep slope, and slick rock or root below to instantaneously transfer them from an upright to an upward-looking, but prone position, gasping for the breath that was just knocked out of them. I’d bet that some fellers (surely not gals) that this happens to cut loose with an interesting word or two or ten. I wouldn’t know any of them words, of course…..

But seriously, a recent leaves-upon-root launching and tumble set me to thinking back over this year which has passed so quickly, and consider it from the perspective of the leaves which were an instrumental part of my undoing. So won’t you come along with me, and let’s remember here in late November.

Only nine months ago, in that short and often bitter month of February, they existed only in the mind of their Creator. But a warm day here and there late in the month started something to happening, and before you knew it, swollen buds burst forth in new life with tender light greens of early spring.

March is mercurial and flighty. But just surviving fickle weather gave them a sense of confidence and strength. The tentative hint of green began to darken, and they grew at an accelerating pace, changing daily.

Just half a year back, in that magnificent month of May, they were well-nigh fully grown, garbed in a healthy dark green outfit of young adulthood, and primed to absorb – and give – life. Upward they lifted their heads for the blessing of each erg of energy poured down.from heaven’s plentitude. They flirted and they played, keeping perfect time with springtime breezes. They danced to the “purdy, purdy, purdy – treat, treat, treat, treat, treat” of a pair of cardinals echoing harmonies in the hollers, and occasionally hearkened to the preacher bird’s exhaustless exhortations ringing from the ridges. High-up mountain streams tumbled and laughed, making misty sprays out of their abundance, nurturing nearby branch lettuce and patches of ramps. Truly, it was a time when “All nature sings, and round me rings, the music of the spheres.”

The vicissitudes of spring slowly gave way to a more dependable, less variable time, framing the context for work yet to come. Early June rains didn’t dampen their attitude; on the contrary, the leaves came out the other side all the more glorious, adorned by rainbow-colored jewel drops of water sparkling in that unequaled clarity of an after-shower sunshine.

The July summer did, in fact, bring day after day of hot, hard, photosynthesizing work. An occasional afternoon thundershower brought much needed break from the task, and gave those now somewhat calloused leaves a wee bit of a reminder of earlier days and easier ways.

Then came August, oh August – that month of tribulation, trials and testing. Is this what life had come to – an unrelenting heat and day after day of dry gasping with but a shallow drink of dew in the morning? What were formerly veins of life became lines of constant worry.

But just when it seemed as if it would never end, suddenly there came, somewhere around that third week of the month, a couple of days of refreshing change. It was as if to say “Well done – thus far – good and faithful servant. You have earned a brief reprieve, but there’s more work yet to do. So keep your hands upon the plow, and hold on.”

With that bit of encouragement the leaves obeyed their Maker. While they still awoke each morning and set to the task at hand, the days grew shorter and less intense. The fruits of summer labor ripened, and with that fruition, the sense of urgency diminished. The slackened rate and maturity brought a sense of satisfaction to September.

Gone was the vigor of youth; having yielded to a more thoughtful pace, as if in making the final, careful, finishing brush strokes on a painting. Life-carrying veins that became lines of worry in August transitioned once again to become outlining frames for the developing amber autumn hues.

Fall leaves in western nc

Technically, the October sun wasn’t greatly different from that of April – each just slightly offset from the autumnal and vernal equinoxes. Can it possibly be that the sun throwing a sparkling freshness on a spring’s early morning is the same sun which brings a mellow glow to a late autumn afternoon? It just can’t be – and yet it most definitely and assuredly is. It is a double-mirrored image, a reminder that – for now – we can only see through the glass darkly.

In November, their time aloft spent and colors faded, the leaves are set free to join brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, friends and foes, in enriching the soil to the benefit of future generations. But while the body has fallen, the essence that carried them from budding green to glowing gold hasn’t.  It has only departed for a time, and will – before you know it – take on a new life, in a new body.

There is a time to do and a time to reflect, and a time to contemplate. November seems to be all three to me. Especially on a day when the air is clear and views unobstructed, it is a fitting time for looking back at what has been, looking all around to see what is, and then considering all that is yet to be. The words of Clara Scott, the hymnist, seem fitting (and I can almost hear my Mama singing these in the pew of a Sunday morning):

Open my eyes, that I may see

Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;

Place in my hand the wonderful key

That shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now I wait for Thee

Ready my God, Thy will to see,

Open my eyes, illumine me,

Spirit divine!


I hope you enjoyed Don’s writing as much I did! His thoughts on leaves seem especially fitting after the past few blustery days we’ve had here in western NC.



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  • Reply
    December 5, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I read this kind of late, but I really love it – it’s a keeper. Ditto on Sandra’s comment

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    November 30, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Very inspiring post, really enjoyed it.. Thanks Don for your story. I can relate to it so much and thanks Tipper for sharing with us. Always look forward to your posts..I may not catch everyone, due to unforseen circumstances.I really enjoy each one..Thanks Susie

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    I really enjoyed this post and the beautiful pictures. I love to look at the change in the seasons in the majestic trees. The beautiful greens of the spring and the vibrant colors of the fall. The rustling of the leaves in the breeze makes me think of angel wings. The trees stand watching over us. When I reflect in the stately beauty of the trees reaching toward the sky I can’t help but think “My God how great Thou art!”

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    November 30, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Don’s beautiful post brought a tear to my and a hearty chuckle about his much older brother. Great work Don . I can identify with the leaves over the roots . Once upon a time in the spring in Monroe county West Virginia I was
    “side-hilling” and stepped on a root that ran down the ridge and was covered with leaves. In a heartbeat I was down and broke the soundboard on my favorite old turkey call I bought in 1967 . Larry Proffitt

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    November 30, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Great posting. I enjoyed reading this article. Thanks for sharing it with us. Lovely imagery of the mountains.

  • Reply
    janet pressley
    November 30, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Beautiful testimonial to November and other seasons. Loved the pictures. Nana

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Although I’m not very fond of autumn, I do envy your golden leaves and bare trees! It was such a pleasure reading this post. It reminded me of John Keats’ “Ode to Autumn”
    Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
    To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
    And still more, later flowers for the bees,
    Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    I want to thank you for all of the
    good posts that have blessed our
    lives so much. November is my
    favorite time of the year and Don
    was able to capture in careful detail the reason for the seasons.
    He is truly a “Son of the Smokies”
    and I’m proud to have him in my
    circle of friends. Thanks, Don…

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    November 30, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    and Don…what a wonderful post…
    I could not find the adjectives to express my feelings about the post Don has written about trees…I love trees and everything you said touched my heart…
    It also touched my “tickle bone” as I thought of the “slide down the hill on the Maple leaves” and the reference to it in this post..
    Thanks Don for a straight from the heart post…
    Tipper thank you as always, Is this mountain magic again?..
    Remember my email and showing you
    the (art) leaf?..Titled
    “Remember November!” Ooooooh!

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Enjoy your posts every day Tipper, but this one today is exceptional. Many thanks to you and Don for sharing this with us all.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    November 30, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Amazing post-I echo the Amen. As I read, I remembered a post of yours, Tipper, back in the spring on the beauty of the blooming trees. At the time I was keeping company with my dying father through the long nights & reflecting on the circle of life. Don’s post today brought your spring reflections full circle & was equally comforting.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Thank you Don for writing and Tipper for sharing with us. Very beautifully written and the pictures are breathtaking!Don, I felt that I was right there in the mountains among all the beauty and splendor. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful November gift!

  • Reply
    jackie shound ringersma
    November 30, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I too enjoyed this post. Makes me want to listen to Fleetwood Mac’s “Bare Trees” poem and re-read “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” (Leo Buscaglia). Think I will ;-). xoxo

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    November 30, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Enjoyed the post and loved the picture!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 30, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Rick, when you are sitting in the woods with no leaves, you are sitting in the leaves. So make sure no one is watching and be a kid again and play in them.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 30, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Tipper, that was thought inspiring, seems that Jim is not the only wordsmith in the Casada family.
    There certainly is majesty in our trees and mountains.
    I’ve lost two loved ones in the month of November and they taught me how, even bare of their summer finery, these trees and mountain can close in and comfort a grieving soul.

  • Reply
    Edward Myers
    November 30, 2011 at 10:08 am

    I was born to the trees, came back for the trees and remain for the trees.
    Two haunting and extraordinarily beautiful images of the forest in winter.
    The sight of a blindingly white sycamore trunk amongst the dour grays of the maples, oaks and hickories that surround it. A nymph in bondage? A haint? A singular iconoclast? A memory of lasting beauty.
    A hiking trail covered in the thinner leaves of birch and maple, flattened by snow and rain into a flawless, yet variegated plain of regularity, where even one’s steps seem violations.
    Many, many others that remain unseen by those who huddle round their fires for winter’s passing.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 30, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Not only is Don an excellent writer he is also a lyricist and a poet. His words bring to mind pictures, sounds and the music of nature. I almost!! cried as I read this piece. Thank you, Don for awakening memories.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 9:45 am

    What a great post from Don; it was such a treat to read this.

  • Reply
    Rick Kratzke
    November 30, 2011 at 9:37 am

    I really liked this post. Ya Spring and Summer are ok but there is something mystical about autumn when the leaves come down. That is why I like it I think.
    To be sitting in the woods with no leaves gives me a feeling if solemness, peace and traquility.

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    November 30, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Tipper, Don sure blows that right-brain, left-brain theory, doesn’t he? Engineers aren’t supposed to be that creative! Both the writing and the pictures are wonderful! Great job Don!

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Tipper – Someone said, maybe it was one of my teachers that if a person is to write they would need to be able to show people or let them see what they were talking about by their use of words. Mr. Cassada certainly has done this in his article. I felt I was there with him in those mountains.
    If only I could have lived in the High Country! What an enjoyable read!

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 8:59 am

    What a perfect way to end the month of November! I really enjoyed reading this; I could feel like I was walking through the woods and the undressing of the leaves and the trees beginning a long winter’s nap.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    November 30, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Thank you, Don. I also love trees and you really make me miss my mountains. I am in FLAT South Florida, but when we built our house in 1992, we planted 9 Live Oaks (a different variety from the mountains, with leaves that only get to about two inches in length, but the trees are rugged and gnarly like an oak should be). We don’t get fall here, but sometimes, the oaks drop leaves in March. We have REALLY fat squirrels right now, though, thanks to a huge supply of acorns. The oaks grow really fast here because of no dormancy in winter, so our half-acre is heavily wooded after only 19 years, which helps compensate for the flatness.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 8:33 am

    What a beautiful site to behold to start one off on today’s journey–thanks Don for sharing those sites of beauty–Linda

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    November 30, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Tipper, this post was a perfect read while having a cup of coffee on a dreary morning. Thanks to Don for sharing!

  • Reply
    Karen Larsen
    November 30, 2011 at 8:29 am

    BEAUTIFUL! The photos and words are amazing. Thank you, Don.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Tipper, thanks for this post and Don thanks for putting in words a wonderful insight and heart felt love for trees and their leaves and their yearly journey form start to finish , I have to say I hung on every word and then went back and reread it and walked with you thru the woods, thanks. Malcolm from Thailand

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    November 30, 2011 at 8:07 am

    This is an excellent story Don. Thanks for sharing Tipper.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 7:51 am

    i love that old song and am now singing it. we sang that all my life in church, but not now. i like that tree shot

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    November 30, 2011 at 7:47 am

    One word for this incredible post – “WOW!”
    Thank you both for a great start to my day.

  • Reply
    Tim Mclemore
    November 30, 2011 at 6:59 am

    All I can say to that is “Amen”. Enjoyed it very much.

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