Autumn has passed and Winter’s presence grows more and more each day. Morning’s light emerges later and darkness arrives over the horizon sooner than the weeks and months before. Winds whip and howl through bare trees.
The mountains, evermore, replace their vibrant pigment in exchange with varying hues of umber and shades of purple. The colors that do remain cling to branches and scatter on the forest floor. The last of Autumn’s leaves.
The rich soil.
The slick cascade of water rushing from the rivers and over rocks. I spend the last of these days, where the final forces of Fall remain palpable, crawling up the edge of a waterfall to the top of a mountain.
In the foothills that mark the trailhead, one final stand of bright, golden maples eek out their last celebration for the year.
A cathedral’s nave cast from nature.
Further into the forest, the trees grow bare. Looking upward reveals a spindly network of branches, none coming too close to touch, forming empty channels between them. Bright blue rivers of sky. Birds call and sing. The swirl of the wind. The sound of the brook echoing and beckoning me deeper into the forest, further up the mountain.
As I ascend I pause to appreciate small chance-made vignettes that adorn the forest world. A gnarled old root caught in decomposition.
Two fallen tree trunks, blackened by fire.
In Winter’s cold decay, life still pulses through the forest. Springing up from the thick carpet of fallen leaves, young saplings find a foothold.
Ferns of all forms unfurl.
Moss find shelter in cracks and crevices.
On twisted roots.
Halfway up the mountain, I stop to savor the rush of the cascade.
Perched on a stone boulder outcropping, I spread out a tea set kept in my side bag. A brocaded box and tea-stained linen cloth.
A small 內紫外紅 nèi zǐ wài hóng 宜興茶壺 Yíxìng cháhú from the early 1980s set atop an oak leaf.
Opened, it becomes a vessel to contain the moment, a chance to pause, an opportunity to meditate in nature. No extraneous noise, just the sound of the waterfall and the wind pressing through the trees. No unnecessary thoughts, just those enough to attend to the act of making tea.
Thoughts enough to guide my hand as I place old tea leaves intro the center of the open teapot. Twisted, dark, aged leaves of an old 普洱茶 pǔ’ěr chá that mirror those fallen on the path that led me to the waterfall’s edge. Red and russet and warm. Dry and leathery like a worn boot.
I pour out a measure of hot water into the open teapot and, for a moment, watch as the tea leaves roll and slowly expand. The deep blue of the sky overhead reflecting in the tiny pool of the open teapot.
I replace the lid and wait for the tea to brew.
In this moment of waiting, I observe the world around me.
The waterfall, the rocks, the forest. The cascade and the rush of water.
The pool in which it all collects and churns.
The mountain stream that ambles and coils downward.
The water, disappearing over a bend and humped back of the hillock. Water, merging with earth, with the wood of the forest, with the light caught against the leaves and the skyward stretching columns of trees.
I pour out the first of many steepings from the tiny teapot into a single cup.
The color of the brew is a deep scarlet. The aroma is rich like healthy soil. The favor is sweet and satisfying, akin to a fine wine, with a soft lingering finish that tapers off slowly until it merges and fades with the myriad of scents that define the forest.
I continue to sit and steep tea. Time passes, marked by the slow shifting of light through the trees.
The change in color of the tea’s liqueur
The expanding of the tea leaves.
One last cup and I close the pot and wrap up the small tea set to continue on my journey up the mountain. Further up the mountain, the forest thins. Yet, here, too, Winter’s blooms can be found. ￼
Witch Hazel flowers burst atop the knobby and twisted branches of their weathered trees.
New moss emerges from underneath desiccated leaves.
Even a fallen sycamore leaf appears new, alive, fiery against the cold earth.
Climbing higher still, I reach a mountain lake, the source of the waterfall.
Here I rest and sit for tea, spread out atop a warm, sunbaked stone.
The same tea is brewed from before.
It’s flavor seems gentler now, it’s color paler.
I let each steeping go on longer, letting the leaves soak and expel their flavor slowly.
Atop the stone, I sit with the teapot in silent mediation. The chill of Winter abated by the heat of the sun, yet its presence surrounds me. The umber and purple mountain tops rising up against the lake’s edge.
The bare branches stretching up to the sky. The cold wind that creeps between the folds in my coat. The last of Autumn’s leaves, clinging on to a season long since passed.