A killing frost serves as the end of the growing season. Much like the coloring of the leaves this year, the initial freeze was a month later than the average date.
We had our first frost of the season last week here in the Shenandoah Valley. For good measure, the next several mornings were equally frosty.
Consequently, the leaves seemed to reach their peak color and then came tumbling down like rain showers. When a breeze stirred, it poured orange, red, yellow, and crimson.
Trees in the mountains to our west and east seemed to show their duller shades still. Here in the valley, it was a different story.
Trees in residential areas glowed the brightest. One particular neighborhood took the prize. Perhaps the combination of the sun’s angle, the slope of the hillsides, and the species of trees created the showiness.
Regardless of the reasons, I was thrilled that I happened upon the scene at just the right time. For days, these trees kept their composure by wearing their chlorophyll masks.
Then, as if by magic, the trees began to turn, which is too trivial of a term. Many of them glowed. In the low slant of the morning and even sunshine, the colors simply took your breath away.
A short walk around our daughter’s neighborhood enabled me to capture multiple photos of fall’s glory. I felt honored to be in such lovely company.
The same was true where we lived five miles away. Sugar maples and red maples especially glowed brilliant hues of reds, yellows, and fading greens. The plentiful variety of oaks retreated to their reddish russets.
That same day, I came across a poetic quote by naturalist and writer John Burroughs. He penned: “How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of color are their last days.”
Those wise words hit me hard. As a septuagenarian heading toward yet another birthday, Burroughs phrasing echoed through my soul. The poet’s quote seemed especially apt for this time of year, for this time of my life.
Here we are at the physical boundary of November’s purpose: separate fall from winter gradually so humans can fully prepare for life’s necessary hibernation ahead. The series of frosts simply put their exclamation mark on that fact.
All these years of appreciating the changing leaves, I had never thought of them in Burroughs’ terms. Yes, they are pretty when they finally turn their natural colors. There’s much more to his pair of poetic lines than science and common sense.
When I read Burroughs’ insightful lines, I nearly wept. His two simple yet powerful sentences touched me with depth, truth, and stark reality.
More than that, Burroughs poetic description serves as a metaphor for our own lives, should we be so fortunate to live into our Golden Years. Perhaps I finally understood what the phrase “our Golden Years” meant.
This year the leaves precisely fulfilled Burroughs words and meaning as he wrote them. If we bothered to notice, we became the benefactors of this annual wonderment.
None of us know when, like those lovely leaves, we will fall from the tree of life. It is incumbent on us to fulfill our purpose here on God’s good earth every day.
Do we see the wisdom that shines beautifully from those whom we too often label “old?” Do we see how full the color is in their last days? Do we understand that someday we will be them?
If not, let us pause to notice the flourishing lives they lived and say thanks.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2021
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