Right now my backyard is glowing. It’s a mess of yellow and burnt orange with a backdrop of light blue sky and indigo water. It might well be peak color in my little spot on the earth at this very moment. Tomorrow will likely be pretty much the same, but the winds are blowing harder as the days move toward winter. This year’s glowing leaves won’t be around much longer. Soon enough they’ll be part of the forest floor’s carpet of dark brown and then they’ll get covered in snow. This time of vibrancy is fleeting.
Eva and I went for a hike at a nature preserve yesterday. I got a good workout hauling a 35 pounds of small child on my back for most of the walk and on our breaks, Eva had a great time playing in the tall grass and hiding amongst the leaves and rocks and trees of the forest we hiked through. This particular forest is always quite lovely, but yesterday is was astonishingly gorgeous. There’s a deep ravine a few miles into the hike, and all we could see as we approached the trail’s turn to skirt the drop-off were blazing maple leaves of all hues as far as the eye could see. We were completely surrounded by the energy of the season. We were witnessing the peak.
When we go back next week, it won’t look the same. Many of the leaves will have dropped to the ravine’s rocky floor, and the sense of walking through a sunbeam will be gone. It will be easy to mourn the passing of another season into dormancy and long for what has already faded away. Many times it seems there is only one way to go from the peak: down.
But perhaps there’s another way to look at it. When we look at the seasons of the year in pieces, we see peaks and valleys that are separate from each other. We see times of the year that we like and times that we dread. We see our troubles apart from our triumphs and can’t seem to see how things can possibly work out.
Yet if we look at the year as it meshes with all the other years and at the seasons as they flow seamlessly into one another, the picture changes. We can see the wholeness that encompasses the living and the dying, the vibrancy and the fading away. We can see our troubles and our triumphs as part of the same universal breath. We can see that all things are essential to create a beauty that is outside of simple understanding.
In the words of Thomas Merton, ‘There is in all visible things….a hidden wholeness.’ In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight: diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites. They are held together in the paradox of “hidden wholeness. -Parker Palmer