Last fall Jerry and I took an autumn foliage trip in the beautiful Smokey Mountains. We were lucky to go before the devastating and deadly fires destroyed more than 16,000 acres along with the charming bead and breakfast we enjoyed. While we were leaf peeping I think I must have pointed out every tree to Jerry, each one seeming more beautiful than the last. And to his credit, he pulled over and let me take pictures of almost every tree in the forest! It was hard to choose just one of my photos to go with this blog, but I love this one! It’s like God took a paintbrush to the world. The beauty of autumn passes so quickly; if we don’t stop and look, we might miss it. I wanted to take a time out and enjoy the leaves at their peak. I found a quote by gardener Elizabeth Lawrence that expresses my feelings: “Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”
I’ve been trying to remind myself of the botany I studied many years ago. I remembered that the changing color of leaves has to do with photosynthesis, chlorophyll, and glucose. During the summer, the trees are working hard converting sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into sugar. The leaves are green because of an abundance of chlorophyll. But as days get shorter and cooler trees begin to store nutrients in their roots so they will be able to leaf out again in the spring. As they store up the last of the chlorophyll, we begin to see the vibrant colors that were present all along.
Why are there so many different colors? Each color is a provision from God, protecting its specific type of tree from damage caused by exposure to sunlight while the leaves are breaking down. Even the dead leaves play a roll in autumn’s drama. They fall to the forest floor, decompose, and provide vital nutrients necessary for reforestation. There is no collateral waste in God’s economy.
Why is it necessary for leaves to fall? As I looked closely at the leaves that were still on their trees, I could see that most of them were in bad shape. Summer’s heat, storms, and insects had taken a toll. If they remained, the tree would need to use its vital energy store to sustain them. And trees need that energy reserve in order to produce buds next spring. In late fall and early winter, those remaining leaves become little vessels to trap heave wet snow and ice. Even a quarter inch of ice can bring down huge trees.
The changing leaves remind us of the changing seasons of our own lives. We will not always be in a season of sowing and reaping, of working and receiving a paycheck. We must store up a savings so that we will be able to survive the winter of our lives. There will not always be time to do those things we are called to do. We must complete our earthly mission while it is still summer. Autumn reminds me that I am running out of options, of do-overs and revisits. And only a finite amount of time remains for that bucket list of mine.
But the falling leaves also remind us of the necessity of letting go. In some cases it is merely a matter of accepting the losses we cannot control: our beauty, our youth, and our physical strength. For some autumn brings a loss of health or a loss of memory. We may lose a spouse or another close family member. We will surely lose friends along our autumn journey. There is an anonymous quote about autumn: “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.” We need to let go of superfluous things, those things that keep us moored to earth. If our hands are full, how can we receive? And just as trees must release dead leaves, so we must let go of the dead. We must quit using our life-giving resources to dead situations and relationships.
During one day of our trip, we were showered with gilded birch leaves, falling from above like golden coins from God. This beautiful day was a perfect gift to me and I will store it in my heart to remember when winter comes.
“…Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.” Jer. 5:24