The Last of the Leaves by Jamie Kirkpatrick


The last few leaves of summer are clinging stubbornly to the sycamore tree in front of our house. They may not survive today’s wind, and that’s OK with me. I’ve raked enough this season.

Autumn is a poignant time; a twilight season between hot and cold, dark and light, remembering and forgetting. But (as I’ve said here before) it’s my favorite time of year, full of colors and crisp air and good smells like wood smoke from a chimney or the redolent aroma of a simmering pot of stew on the stove when I walk in the door.

But those last few leaves… They’re still hanging on for dear life as if they were afraid to just let go and rattle off down the street. I can understand that. There are things we all want to hold on to forever: our youth, our hopes and dreams, all those we have loved along the way. These—and more—are the last of the leaves.

But it is in the letting go of all these things that we free ourselves to move forward. In his masterpiece novel of self-discovery “Siddartha,” Herman Hesse observed that “Some of us think that holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” I know that’s counter-intuitive but there comes a time when we have to pitch some of the treasure or pain we carry in order to create space for what we still have to bear and for what is to come. Even a sycamore knows that.

Now I don’t believe for a minute that letting go means forgetting. I suppose that if we forgot all the lessons we’ve learned along the way, we would be doomed to repeat our mistakes and, like Sisyphus, we would spend the rest of our days rolling that heavy boulder uphill. No; to my musing mind, letting go simply means relaxing one set of muscles in order to create sufficient energy for another set of muscles to pick up the next load. And the next and the next, season after season.

Sounds simple, but it’s not. A lot of us crave the status quo; change—letting go of the past and forging a new future—can be a daunting, even downright terrifying, prospect. We’ve all played the game of thinking about the one person, past or present, with whom we would most like to have dinner. My choice for that meal would be my distant ancestor—I think my seven times great-grandfather—who decided to let go of Scotland and all that he held dear to sail across an ocean and build a cabin in the wilds of Western Pennsylvania. Talk about letting go! What courage that must have taken, but then again, perhaps it was as simple as letting go.

Out in front of our house, the wind is still doing to its best to shake the last of the leaves from the sycamore tree. The yard I raked yesterday is covered again. There’s still work to be done. But one day soon, the last leaf will tumble down and the cycle will invisibly begin again. Because there’s never a last leaf. Even a sycamore knows that.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is





Letters to Editor

  1. Bob Moores says:

    Very good, Jamie!

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