Winter holds its own appeal, though my ability to appreciate it is brief (the snow is beautiful; the cold and the dark, not so much). I delight in spring, when everything comes alive again. And the color green never looks so beautiful to me as in early summer, after so much gray and brown and white. But it isn’t until the autumn, the dying, that the trees which seem the most ordinary—the ones that otherwise blend together in a nondescript blur of green or a tangle of bare brown—make me stand in awe.
I somehow spent the first two and a half decades of my life not paying attention. Oh, I might have paid the blazing trees a passing compliment each October; some years I suppose I marveled a little. But I never got up close, never slowed to take in the details and ponder their significance.
Then we moved to an old neighborhood, one whose streets are shaded by trees that have seen more than my grandparents. And on long walks up and down its sidewalks, I learned to see. I picked up a bright yellow fan-shaped leaf and taped it in my visual journal, not knowing what it was, sure I’d never seen one before. Did we have that kind of tree up north? (Yes, it turns out; the photo below is from Ohio.)
When my firstborn was three, we checked out Autumn Leaves from the library. We embarked on a hunt, collecting as many different specimens as we could find from the trees near our house. I had known the basic oak and maple, but now I learned the shapes of tulip poplar, smoke tree, sweet gum and linden.
The burning bushes turn scarlet, and this really does feel like holy ground. Every November is new; every year I wander slow, unable to believe that perfect blue shade of the autumn sky, exact complement to the orange trees…awed by the intricate shape of a maple leaf…thrilled to watch the gingko turn glorious yellow.
I try to capture it in pictures, occasionally getting lucky but mostly frustrated by my inability to freeze-frame the way the light plays off the warm, rich colors. I think vaguely poetic thoughts, haunted by poem-ghosts that make their homes in the fiery maples and the oak across the street whose brittle brown leaves hang on all winter, refusing to fall.
Day after day, I am reminded that this beauty comes in dying. And this is no happenstance, no mere natural occurrence that coincidentally points to a spiritual reality. It is the wise and wonderful design of a Creator who intended the metaphor even as He gave each leaf its color and then cloaked them all in green. He painted the trees for the very purpose of testifying to His Son, the One He had already planned would die in the most terribly beautiful way.
And I am reminded that His design is for me, too, to become beautiful through dying--and that when I lay my life down, my flesh crucified with Christ, I can rest assured that a resurrection spring will always, always come.
Previously in the fall (aka, I write a version of this post every year, with photos of our gorgeous neighborhood):
Death and Beauty
Part of the Whole
Compelled to Capture Beauty