By Glenn Bater, a member of Get Your WordsWorth
Rich earth scents and fiery shows of color make autumn my favorite season. October has a way of revealing new glories and giving second chances. The trees, otherwise indistinguishable from one another in their green robes of summer, seem to come alive and take on new personalities.
Men are much like trees, I think. We spend the summers of our lives solid and strong but, like the trees of a vast forest, form a great mass of humanity with all too little differentiation. We have our jobs and family obligations and become indistinguishable from one another in the vast forest of mankind that makes a living and raises a family with their dreams put on hold until after they pay for the braces and college tuition. What a contrast to the lives they led before the press of responsibility in the springtime of life as children, when the forest was still in bloom, when they promised maturity in different stages like April trees with fresh delicate shows of pastels and whites. There were early bloomers among them who stuck out from the rest of the forest, with their precocious displays of maturity. They grabbed the attention early while the rest of the forest was still bare twigs and buds. Soon enough, though, the precociousness didn’t make a difference any more, and all the other children eventually followed suit in their own time like cards laid down in a game of hearts. I love the trees as they start to burst into fragrant cascades of color. The fragrances of the blossoms are sweet perfume in the night like the smell of scrubbed babies in their cribs, asleep in their fuzzy pajamas with the little sewn-in feet. We love to watch our children in the springtime of their lives; every mother is certain that her child is the cutest and the smartest. Perhaps the mothers are all correct since, to each mother, it is only the other mother’s baby who reminds her of Winston Churchill… except without the cigar…but mothers always say, “How darling”, anyway. The springtime of life is beautiful to watch, but it is stressful. I often wonder how many gallons of tears have been spilt and how many nights spent sleepless worrying about the development of our little ones that didn’t conform completely with the arbitrary timetable laid down in some book with a title like “Your child… from birth to Kindergarten”, or when elementary school report cards or late science projects took on seemingly apocalyptic proportions?
The time comes all too soon when the trees yield up the promises and blossoms of springtime. Report cards and science projects are all quickly forgotten in the heat of the sun of summer when the forest of life takes on a universal cloak of green. No more prodigies or blue ribbon babies need contend for attention any longer. The trees of summer are still different, of course, but distinguished only by their occasional placement or utility. A lone majestic oak on a grassy hill is beautiful. Birds build their nests in its branches and the luxuriant shade beneath sturdy limbs is God’s umbrella from the sun. Great men and women rise up from the plains or forests of humanity, and mankind refreshes itself in or sees its life extinguished by their shade. The Jeffersons and Luthers, Catherine the Greats and a variety of sleazy Caesars each stood out above others and cast long shadows in their time but, eventually, even the great ones felt the sap drain into the ground. If they were not cut down prematurely, they eventually had to make their preparations for the winter that comes inevitably to all alike. Schweitzers and Einsteins eventually, despite their summer grandeur, eventually bow to time and nature as the life-giving sap is drained and they move toward the inevitable winter. Even the most majestic of trees can give up life with a loud snap when loaded down beyond their endurance by the ice storms, or worse, survive the storm as formless cripples… with only a vague memory of former glory remaining.
But, (I love that three letter word, “but”) in the fall all the trees, the mighty and the humble, have another chance at glory. There always remains the possibility, for the even meanest, to be robed like the old High Priest of Israel in garments of glory and beauty. Men and trees can be seen in a new light in their autumn. Sometimes the trees that were unnoticed before take on such spectacular colors. They form impressions so vivid that that viewer is awed by the brilliance of their new autumn robes.
Many years have gone by, but I still have a vivid memory of an individual maple on a country highway. My family and I were out for a drive to pick apples, and enjoy the riot of colors on Route 23 in Northern New Jersey. As we rounded a curve in the late afternoon, a magnificent tower of blazing golden yellow dominated the landscape, catching all the power of the setting sun and magnifying it in a display of God’s very majesty. That picture is fresh in my mind more than thirty years later. I never saw that tree before, though I drove the highway for years. Later, when I went back to search it out I couldn’t find it, but that one maple is the best testimony that I can think of to the power of the autumn.
I find myself surprised that it is already the Indian summer of my own life, and now I want to be like that maple. I have put in my years and fulfilled my duties as husband and father, I put food on the table and kept the grindstone perpetually too close to my nose, but now I covenant with myself to pursue my dreams. If not now, when? The truth is that there are no excuses left for not plunging into dreams with abandon. How long will the autumn last? How much time will it take to find the right patch of sunlight? Men may be like trees in some respects, but the magic of the human autumn is that it exists until it is voluntarily bid farewell. Even though a man can see his breath in the air, it is still autumn if he refuses to let the sap drain into the frozen ground, or if he refuses to release the robe of color to be scattered into the wind of time. I am thankful for the autumn of life. I plan to embrace it until Milton’s words reflect my reality:
Then ‘round about the starry throne of Him who ever rules alone, your heav’nly-guided soul shall rise, of all its earthly grossness quit. And glory crowned, forever sit, and triumph over death and thee, o time.