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Saturday October 23, 2004: Personal: Where Have All the Colors Gone?

          Michigan had an unusual summer -- cooler and wetter than anything we remember from the last four or five years. Nights would often drop forty degrees, and by mid-August portions of the trees had begun turning color. August was supposed to bring the heat of summer; instead I began seeing stray leaves blowing across the yard. We all agreed it was strange and wondered about the upcoming winter.

        The change to fall progressed in stages. On most trees, I watched some leaves stubbornly remain green while others began turning color. Yellows and oranges picked up shades of brown (perhaps from the cold nights), or maybe it was the sudden dry spell that squelched any riotous show of color by a single tree. Bare branches explained the piles of dead leaves beneath mostly green trees. The overall effect was not our usual autumn of reds and oranges and yellows, but a landscape painted in shades of olive and rust. I moaned a lot. Autumn is my favorite time of the year and I rush to embrace the brilliant colors that celebrate summer's end.

           My mother talked to my brother in the UP a few weeks ago. Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan had a cold snap and the trees all turned at once; the colors, he said, were spectacular. I grumbled again over trees in southeast Michigan that were struggling -- with an even mixture of green and colored leaves scattered about each tree, our landscape in southern Michigan was still painted olive and rust. Unfair!! The UP usually trailed after southern Michigan's peak colors by two to three weeks.

            On the way into work, I passed by a local farmer's market.  For the past month they'd put out a huge multi-colored display of mums along one entire side of the building. Over the weekend, the mums had been replaced by a tiered stand of pumpkins, five to six levels high -- hundreds of pumpkins, enough for the nearby families and students to buy multiple sizes and carve to their hearts' delight. The shock of an orange wall of pumpkins made me smile and remember all the other parts of autumn I love.  I laughed at myself. Why should I let the drab color of trees spoil my favorite time of year? No, sir -- I was going to enjoy Michigan on its own terms. If the usual fall colors were missing, then so be it -- I would find delight in the subtleties of olive and rust shadings.

            It was a great plan, though on the way home I did wonder if I was being over-enthusiastic. I hate the sweetness and light approach that must see everything as beautiful. That approach always seems to deny the rough or discolored edges of reality. The idea I might be slipping into the 'everything is beautiful' camp put a damper on my enthusiasm.  Plus -- to make matters worse -- I found no matter how I tried to appreciate the subtle shades, an undercurrent of disappointment continued. Deep down I still wanted color -- riotous color to delight the eye one last time before the grays and browns of winter took over.

           That's when I started up again -- laughing at myself. Haven't I gotten past that stage of mysticism where each thing needs to seen as beautiful in its own special way? I don't need to see the world in only the upper shades of a spiritual spectrum. I can appreciate the good, the bad, the indifferent, and the way all of it becomes woven into the reality of life. I can weave disappointment into the whole of my life and still be content with the overall effect.

              You know what? The drive home was peaceful again. It was a different type of peace than from my earlier mystic days. I was not looking past the physical reality to see the sparkling presence of the divine. I simply held all of life and marveled at the wonder of its complexity.

             By the time brighter colors eventually filtered into parts of our area, it didn't seem to matter. Occasional sugar maples and burning bushes came into full glory, brilliant colors tucked in the midst of their more reserved neighbors. I still saw tree after tree with brown leaves clinging to the branch. I continued noticing green leaves stubbornly refusing to join a group celebration. I returned to an inner sense of peace.

           This has been a strange summer and autumn. Still, time passes; the seasons -- for better or worse -- have progressed.  I may remember this autumn more for the way it refuses to merge into all my other memories of fall colors. Perhaps this autumn I will rejoice in the comfort that comes from embracing the world on its own terms.       


Posted on Saturday, October 23, 2004 at 08:47AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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