Forty-one years ago, I boarded a ferry from which the glories of autumn in Berchtesgaden, Germany could best be viewed. (I was living in Spain at the time, and was in Berchtesgaden for a Church conference.) I drank in the beauty. I absolutely reveled in it. But all I can remember now is that it was breathtakingly gorgeous.
Not Possible to Remember or to Duplicate
I wish I could remember the exquisite details of such beauty from year to year. I can’t. No matter how long I sat and gazed last year, I could never sufficiently capture the beauty in my mind to make it last. So I have to do it all over again-be there all over again! Each time I stand before a panorama of blazing autumn leaves, I am astonished anew.
I’m determined never to miss a new display of autumn color because countless combinations of the two highly variable factors-temperature and moisture-assure that no two autumns will be exactly alike. A warm wet spring, favorable summer weather, and a succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp-but-not-freezing nights seem to bring about the most spectacular color displays.
Last fall was a good example. In addition to several short forays in the splendor of autumn leaves, my husband and I spent two whole days driving through Wasatch Front canyons that never cease to amaze me with their incredibly rich colors and calendar-worthy scenes. Nothing makes me more aware of God’s supreme artistic talent in creating beauty like autumn colors!
Sometimes I asked Doug to stop while I tried to drink it all in: the myriad greens, the reds, yellow, oranges so bright and abundant that I lamented when my camera couldn’t capture more than a hint of the real experience. Nevertheless, I took dozens of pictures, some included in this article.
Letting Go: An Early Lesson from the Leaves
I can’t help but think of analogies with my autumn experiences. My brain just works that way. One lesson I learn each year from autumn is how leaves just let go when it is time to let go. I remember the moment this realization hit me. I was expecting my first child and in a reflective mood as I sat on a picnic bench in American Fork Canyon watching the leaves fall. I had always assumed that the wind blew the leaves off the trees, but everything was still and quiet that day, without a breath of wind. One by one, the leaves just let go! It was as though some inner voice said to them, “It’s time. Now let go.” And they obeyed.
I want to share with you the poem I wrote all those years ago, after I made that realization about the leaves letting go
My golden maple groans, bowed down by sudden snow;
Caught unaware, boughs break, fall to the ground below.
My winter maple’s limbs, up-reaching, not bowed down,
Wear snow’s adversities as nobly as a crown.
Its price of leaves was paid when colors were still bright,
For undeceived, the tree was warned by inner light.
While Autumn days seem warm, cold storms of trial draw near.
Prepared, the leafless tree stands free from wintry fear.
My Autumn, Lord, is here; help me to rid my life
Of all excess and dross, frivolity and strife.
Then calmly, willingly, as limb and red leaf part
May I repent of sins, and cast them from my heart.
Dear Lord, because I take Thy Spirit as my guide,
I too will be prepared, be stripped of sin and pride.
After the furious storms of wintertime have passed-
When in Thy presence, Lord, I find spring warmth at last-
In strength, I’ll stand with thee, adorned in newest green
Found valiant in the test; spring-fresh, at peace, serene.
I had that experience and wrote that poem long before the Internet. Now, with the click of a mouse, I learned that in early autumn, in response to the shortening days and declining intensity of sunlight, leaves begin the processes that prepare them to fall. The veins that carry fluids into and out of the leaf gradually close off as a layer of cells forms at the base of each leaf. Once this separation layer is complete and the connecting tissues are sealed off, the leaf is ready to fall. I still favor my “inner light” theory, though.
Another Lesson: Accepting the Reality and Beauty of Each Season
Each autumn, I suffer the malady of wanting to hang on to the beauty. I never want it to be over. I sometimes dilute my joy in the moment, lamenting that it won’t last. However, each season of the year, and each season of life, has its own beauty to be enjoyed. Part of the enjoyment can come from the realization that the season is fragile and fleeting, and must be treasured while it is here.
A few years ago my grandson Nathan (about three at the time) picked up a handful of autumn leaves and ran to me with real concern in his eyes. He was worried that the tree was losing those beautiful leaves, and said, “Grandma, put them back!” I wrote about my experience with Nathan, about seasons:
My tiny grandson watched my backyard leaves blaze gold, begin to fall. Puzzled, he held up two leaves, pointed to the tree and said, Grandma, put them back!” I laughed and gave him lessons on the seasons . . . Telling him the tree would grow new leaves next spring . . . That sleek limbs brave winter storms the best.
In retrospect I wondered at the times I’ve tried to “put leaves back,” instead of let them go. I need to love the autumn and the storms as fiercely as the summer sun and play. Each season has its beauty and its needs; Grandmas reap their harvest as the young ones plant their seeds.
Some of the quality of each harvest depends on our ability to let go of the leaves of our earlier seasons. Am I trying to put leaves back instead of letting go if I try to look much younger than my years? Can I let go of activities now too strenuous for me as a tree lets go of leaves? Can I focus on what I can still do and not lament over the lost leaves of what I can’t? My hardiness in braving the storms of life depends on it!
I kept it simple for Nathan, but the fact is that trees must have some sort of protection to survive freezing temperatures and other harsh wintertime influences. Stems, twigs, and buds are equipped to survive extreme cold so that they can reawaken when spring heralds the start of another growing season. Tender leaf tissues, however, would freeze in winter, so plants must either toughen up, as evergreens do, or dispose of their leaves. They do so willingly, gracefully, maybe because the tree knows that if it kept its leaves, the weight of snow on leaves would break many branches. I’ve seen that happen when we’ve had early snowfalls before the leaves have dropped.
When seasons of winter approach in my life, do I let go of “leaves” so my “branches” don’t break? Can I make the decision now to gracefully let go of the autumn leaves of my life so I can brave upcoming winter storms? Have I at times tried to put leaves back instead of letting them go?
Enjoy the Season
I hope you are savoring the season of life you are now in, as well as this glorious fall season. Enjoy the pictures I’ve included with this article and let them motivate you to seek out and experience firsthand some of the autumn beauty where you live. Remember, not even the best picture can begin to give you the same experience as being there. So my advice to you is to go! Drive any beautiful areas closes to you. Enjoy this autumn-a color show that will never be exactly duplicated. Enjoy this season now, while it lasts!
Author Note: My husband and I drove the Alpine Loop, including the road to Cascade Springs after I wrote this article. It was early morning and snow the night before gave new enchantment to the colorful landscape. The colors seemed very different from last year-not as bright, but richer, more mellow, with more burgundy, rust, mustard yellow and lime green, enhanced by the snow icing the peaks and frosting the pines and along the road. It was a breath-takingly beautiful drive, made more so by the bright sunshine illuminating the landscape. This drive proved my thesis that every autumn is a new experience!