Do you know why the leaves change color? All year long, the leaves produce and use chlorophyll in the photosynthesis process that converts light to sugars that nurture the tree. As the days grow shorter, and the nights grow colder, photosynthesis winds down for the year. All that green chlorophyll disappears, revealing the carotenoids and anthocyanins that give the leaves their beautiful colors. The carotenoids are there in the leaves all along, but the chlorophyll usually masks them. The anthocyanins are there in smaller amounts all year, but they increase in response to the changes in light and the sugars present.
Isn’t that interesting? That the trees are at their most stunning when the mask they wear falls away, revealing what has been hidden by the business of survival, of life, of nourishment? Photosynthesis is crucial to survival, and so is its end in the fall; the leaves put on their show and then die off to protect the tree from freezing during the harsh winter temperatures. As much as the tree could not live without photosynthesis, it also could not live without the end of photosynthesis. In order to survive, it has to stop working so hard to survive and allow the true color of the leaves to be revealed and released, so that the plant will shut down enough to protect it from harsh conditions.
It makes me think about the beauty in honesty, in the surrendering to dormancy, in protecting yourself from overly harsh conditions. The fragility that we all hide as we trudge through life, making nourishment for ourselves- the human equivalent of photosynthesis- is a private part of ourselves. Revealing what lies beneath that mask is humbling, deep, raw, intimate. Caring for someone I love who stands before me, emotionally naked, in need of respite, of comfort, of dormancy, is as powerful for me as being the recipient of that care. Not being allowed to give it, I have learned, hurts as badly as not getting it when you needed it yourself.
Fall is my favorite season. Spring is my second favorite. The reason for this is, in part, about transformation. I find the change of seasons, the transitions between the extremes of summer and winter, a powerful reminder of the cyclical character of life, of love, of nature. I draw comfort from the reminder that every year the leaves let go of their green mask of summer, and briefly show us what was underneath all along. The trees lose their leaves and lay dormant all winter, and then start all over. Surely, if the leaves and the trees can do this, then we are capable of it. Of letting go of the mask we all wear to conduct the daily business of life, of showing the world the raw, powerful, breathtaking intensity of our bare souls, then letting go of that set of leaves and resting. Lying in wait for the first warm spring breezes. So we can begin again.
On Sunday, and again today, I had front row seats to an incredible show- fall color in the Southern Appalachians. I desperately needed the reminder that the entire Earth survives, thrives, follows it’s unwavering routines, without my constant analysis and instruction. Of how small I am in the world.
Drought stresses the trees, which means that more sugars are present in the leaves when the photosynthesis stops. It makes the color much more vibrant. Much like the intensity that lies beneath the surface when we are stressed. When the mask falls away, that stress is revealed, and just like the leaves, I find a breathtaking beauty in it’s intensity.
Times are hard. I am suffering. The people I love are suffering. Some of us are hardwoods, who put our colors on display for the world to see, beauty in tragic sorrow and need. Others are like evergreens; they experience the same conditions, but the reaction is so internal that no one ever sees it. Everyone is tired. Everyone is raw. No one knows how to get back on track, with their lives, with themselves, with each other. Sometimes things are so good that you can nearly taste the way it used to be. Easy. Simple. Other times, you’re not sure you can go on to survive another cycle.
My mouth gets me in trouble. My self-disclosure is too high. I have no poker face. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. Some people say this is a sign of immaturity, others that’s inherently feminine, and a precious few see the beauty in my naked leaves. My ability to strip away that mask and let others see the intense colors that lie underneath. It is those same people that realize that it is a part of me as much as the color of my eyes. Some of the people around me have (perhaps rightfully) accused me of making a misstep by being honest, by tipping my hand, by saying what I think and how I feel, by not being a more private person. They’re my evergreens, and I love them. They are some of the people I have the deepest love and admiration for, mostly because of our inherent differences.
I wish they realized how much it hurts all of us when they refuse to show their wear, to admit their need, to take comfort from the people who they so often comfort. I wish they could understand how much better they would feel if they put on a show once and awhile.
October 22, 2008 5 Comments