Note: This is the (lucky) thirteenth essay in the series of “Why We Love Autumn.” I recently asked some friends who love autumn as much as I do to reflect on what made them so excited for autumn to arrive. Julie Greene and I first met in the autumn of 2008 as I was espousing my love of back to school. She loves Moltmann–see how he sneaks in here!
The premiere of root vegetables at the farmers market. All things pumpkin. Apple picking. The ability to take in a full, deep breath with ease. The rustle of fallen leaves. Fall festivals and folk music. Scarves and Mr. Rogers-style cardigans. Bonfires and s’mores. Memories of hikes in the Smokies. Leah’s Autumn playlists. My birthday…
This is the list that ran through my mind when Leah asked if I wanted to write an autumn post for the blog. I thought, “This will be a piece of cake (er… or a piece of apple pie)!” I could write an entire book about all the things I love about this season. I mean, what’s not to love?!
When I realized, though, that I was supposed to write about WHY I love autumn, not WHAT I love about it, I drew a blank. I had never really thought about it that way. You see, I have always lived in places where Fall returns faithfully, year after year. I’ve never had to think about it. It has just always been great. The end.
As I decided to delve into the question a little more, though, I discovered the answer… the leaves. They are why I love autumn. Now, I’m not talking about the beautiful colors, or the sound they make as the wind blows through the trees, or the child-like joy of going out of my way on the sidewalk to step on that one crunchy-looking leaf. It’s the actual leaves. It’s the stories they tell.
Okay, before everyone thinks I’m crazy, I’ll elaborate.
It started in science class (we’ll say 4th grade-ish) when I had to press leaves of different deciduous trees in a scrapbook, naming the scientific names for harvest-time science project. My teacher taught us about photosynthesis, how water and minerals from the soil combine with sunlight in the leaves to allow them to grow and to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. During photosynthesis, this product called chlorophyll is made and makes the leaves green. We learned that during the winter, the tree store up energy to prepare for the new growth in the spring, and that summer is when the leaves have reached their peak of growth.
What fascinated me most, though, is what happens during autumn. When the days become shorter and the leaves lose sunlight, the passageway between the branches and leaves shrinks and eventually closes. When fewer minerals can get to the leaves, chlorophyll can’t be produced, and the leaves are left with the colors that the green pigment used to hide: yellow, orange, red and purple. Then, when the passageway closes completely, the leaves die and fall to the earth. Therefore, what brings me so much joy during this season lies in … death? Kind of morbid, right?
But there’s a lot of beauty in this. Autumn leaves are like that little old man, sitting on his porch, telling his grandchildren about all the adventures he had throughout his life. They remind me of my Mamaw Greene, having weathered storm after storm and blistering heat throughout different seasons of her life, and knowing, in death, that she lived her life fully, with hope, with perseverance, with peace at the end.
The trees seem to know that with death comes the hope of new life, so as the leaves die and return to the soil, the trees begin storing up energy for the new life that comes with spring. Although this is the season that leads to the cold, the quiet, and the dead of winter, I know that the next generation of leaves is just over the horizon.
Autumn is the season of hopeful anticipation… of peace and redemption.
Plus, the best liturgical season picks up where autumn leaves off, with hope, peace, joy and love. That’s pretty hard to beat.