Saturday, September 26, 2009

I Heart Autumn

Oh mercy, I love this season! Little wonder that one of my favorite CDs is George Winston’s Autumn. Outside my office window, the trees are turning gold and shedding small leaves over our back porch. Years ago I loved to see a local landmark, a Southern Illinois hill called Millstone Knob, as it transformed in autumn and finally settled into that purple-gray tone of wintertime. Nearly as pretty as autumn leaves are fields when harvest approaches; here's an early fall picture from Four Mile Prairie, near our family cemetery near Brownstown, Illinois.

In my previous office I enjoyed two autumn pictures. One is an early fall scene from the Jefferson National Forest near Louisville, KY. I took that picture while assisting with my daughter's 4th-grade field trip. Just as we were walking out the door, the researcher for a writing project called and said she was going to fax several dozen pages of research for me.  I'd known she was going to send me the material but not when, and I think she was chagrined that I couldn't receive the material at that moment, given my commitment to help herd numerous nine-year-olds through the Kentucky woods.

The other photo, which hung in my previous office, depicts a line of cruciform power lines, railroad tracks upon the hillside, and fall colors along U.S. 250 west of Charlottesville, Virginia.  This scan is better than the original 1980s photo, which was slightly overexposed in the sunlight, and now I can manipulate the colors to make them more vibrant.

In my home, I’ve another picture of fall colors. This one is a New England scene, I think it’s U.S. 7 in northern Connecticut or southern Massachusetts, but I don’t remember the exact location. The trees are red, gold, yellow, and green; the small cliff is gray but growing from the rock are small plants with yellow leaves; the road is gray but the yellow "curve ahead" sign matches the yellow leaves. The picture was taken in October 1981 when a Yale friend and I went on a Saturday drive to see the famous New England color.

One more road scene, which I don't keep displayed, is a little highway bridge six or seven miles west of my hometown, photographed in early autumn.  Unnumbered now, the road was Illinois 140 for a long time, and before that it was the original path of U.S. 40, and before 1926 the road was State Route 11 and also a portion of the transcontinental National Old Trails Highway. This bridge is one such remnant of long-ago State Route 11, identified as such by the plague upon the inside of the bridge.  The road had made a wide curve and crossed this bridge, but the newer alignment makes a shorter curve. I love to see such early, now abandoned alignments from the 1910s and 1920s, left over when the highway was widened or straightened. You can spot these old pavements beside two-lane roads as you drive through countryside.

I didn’t have a camera along when, during the 1990s, I took my parents on a drive near the farm where Mom grew up, not far from the highway and timber that I feature on this blog. The timber’s colors were absolutely spectacular that year. Autumn scenery, though, doesn’t always translate well onto everyday photographs; I’d have needed a bigger camera with larger negatives to have captured those scenes the best.

Autumn is beautiful but also, for several weeks, it provides very comfortable temperatures. I love going barefooted outdoors on autumn days; the grass is softer than in summertime, the sidewalks are cooler, and autumn leaves feel good on your feet. One pretty, sixtyish autumn day, years ago, while other students were enjoying the day out on the campus lawn, I slipped out of my sandals and into a windbreaker, went outside, and eventually took a lovely walk to the neighborhood market for a snack. Down the way, I passed a barefoot classmate walking a dog through the thick layers of fallen leaves on the sidewalk. Great minds work in the same direction!

It would be interesting to know the psychological theory of why we have favorite colors. Ever since I was little-bitty, my favorite color has been red. Of course red, along with yellow, orange, and brown, is a traditional autumn color, so I was thus fated to be a fan of this season. In my first home, I kept a display of red-and-yellow Indian corn in my kitchen.

Autumn colors result from the plant’s process of growth and regeneration, as explained at this site, The cessation of chlorophyll production causes the leaves to change color and fall, but the tree is all the while preparing for winter. Reading that information, I made a roundabout mental connection to a horticultural image in the Bible, that of pruning, for instance, John 15:1-2. Unfortunately, there is an overtone of violence, a cruelty to the metaphor that is inescapable.

When we consider God’s guidance, I wonder if we shouldn’t add to the idea of “pruning” the additional image of autumn leaves. Like plants in autumn, the circumstances in our lives at the time may be times of change and abandonment--not even a time of current growth but of preparation for future growth. But such times will be positive for us and can become a source of blessing for others, too. We can think of discipleship as a succession of times and seasons that introduce beauty into other people's lives.

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