A friend recently introduced me to the word. We were walking along Rock Creek, enjoying the gurgling of Washington’s water-seam in the late afternoon sunshine. Wendy, a lover of trees, leaned out to touch the slender trunk of a beech and then pointed to the leaves curled into small, individual pea-pod-canoes still hanging from a branch. “Marcescent,” she said.
Marcescent, according to the Free Dictionary, means withering but not falling off, as a blossom that persists on a twig after flowering.
Merriam Webster added to this: pres. part. of marcescere to wither, incho. fr. marcēre to wither; akin to…mern to dip bread in wine or water…
The leaves to which Wendy’s fingers extended were not only withered into individual boats, but all their veins, too, stood out like the ribs of a vessel. What struck me most, though, standing there in the cool March air, was how, though now faded to blond, the leaves had a light and silvery shine more beautiful, even, than the green leaves they once had been.
I have been searching for new lenses, both telescopic and microscopic, through which to view aging—to compete with notions of decrepitude and disintegration—and those marcescent leaves bouncing crackling-bright on their stems offered one such lens.
To me now, after six tucked-away decades—contrary to what the cosmetics ads might have us think—older eyes have a beauty far more elegant, profound, and joy-inspring than youthful ones.
I love looking into my over-fifty friends’ eyes: the way a glint of sapphire or a soft glow of mossy-hazel beams out of a smiling eye set in amongst the little sea-craft of crinkles earned through years of living and learning, laughing and crying.
These are the eyes of people who’ve hung on—the blossoms that persist after spring flowering. Indeed, often, it seems to me, they are enjoying a kind of after-blossoming more enduring than the first. The colors of this after-bloom aren’t the shouting and saturated primaries, but rather the pastels, softened by weather and lit from within: lambent, marcescent. We are no longer simply bread, but bread dipped into water and wine.
You can find more from Sara at sarataber.com.