Have you ever felt like you’re walking right into a Cezanne painting—full of brilliance and color, or is it a Van Gogh? Every fall when we wander through the woodlands, or drive along our country roads, we have to pinch ourselves to make sure we’re not dreaming. Hillsides are painted overnight with splashes of red and yellow and purple in a thousand subtle shades leaving us staring in open-mouthed astonishment.
Trembling aspen crown a far hill with a diadem of gold. The light breeze orchestrates their shimmer into a delicate minuet. Patches of green pine, bronze oak and scarlet maple clothe the hill below the aspen like the robe in a royal pageant. Fingers of hemlock and orderly rows of cedar stitch the robe where it meets the spring-fed valley. Each tree has its own signature—a combination of tint and texture so unique that we can pick out the composition of the forest from miles away.
In this Emerson was right, “Such is the constitution of all things . . . that the primary forms, as the sky, the mountain, the tree, the animal, give us a delight in and for themselves; a pleasure arising from outline, color, motion, and grouping.”
And what is the source of that pleasure? We lean against an old fence and feel the pure pleasure linking us together in silent homage to the divine Artist whose skill no mere human can duplicate.
It’s a time of year when I don’t dare have much film for my camera. Each day seems special, each vista unique, each tree a Byzantine mosaic. Along with sunsets and moonlight, Mary Helen has urged me to curtail my love affair with autumn lest overflowing scrapbooks of prints deplete our bank account and stuff our cupboards. But like rainbows and sunsets, moonbeams and snow scenes words fail us when we try to describe the subtlety and drama of autumn. Words certainly failed those bards and scribes who attributed all this to “Jack Frost” or “Mother Nature”.
Not much better are those who confidently demythologize creation with their “scientific explanation” for autumn’s palette. They remind us that each leaf is a tiny food factory in which green chlorophyll acts as a catalyst helping to promote the chemical reactions necessary to transform carbon dioxide and water under sunlight into glucose while releasing oxygen as a byproduct. All plants contain pigments that are hidden by the intense green of spring and summer growth. As the days shorten and the nights grow cooler green chlorophyll gradually disappears.
With the chlorophyll gone, the leaf can no longer make food. Sunlight reacts on leftover glucose to produce red colors. The leaf color depends on the degree of sunlight, the amount of glucose left, and the variety of other pigments that are most plentiful in the leaf. Xanthophyll is yellow. Carotene shows itself as orange-red. Anthocyanin creates a red and purple effect.
Understanding some of the reasons why the hillsides wear their colors doesn’t lessen the wonder. After all, men have been polluting the earth with their manufacturing for millennia while God’s leaf factories have been quietly producing food and enriching the earth from the very beginning. And his factories don’t pollute, stink, ruin the water table, sting the eyes, de-stabilize the soil, or fill the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Leaves produce oxygen not carbon dioxide. Some researchers estimate that one tree purifies as much as 40 tons of pollutants in its lifetime!
What a Creator! Not only a Manufacturer without peer and the Perfect Engineering Environmentalist but an Artist whose skill leaves us searching in vain for words to describe the scenes he paints with such prodigal strokes of his brush.
“Have you seen God in His splendors,
heard the text that nature renders?”
Sometimes it is enough just to gaze around in awestruck worship. A northern Autumn is one of those times.