Slowing down for the pageant
Lee May 30, 2012

Late autumn. A reason to slow down.

Aromatic leathery eucalyptus leaves fall year round where I live, but they have company now—showy pay-attention company. Standing up amid an imposing array of angophoras, Sydney blue gums, blackbutts, turpentines and Queensland brush box in my neighbourhood are liquidambars, black tupelos, pin oaks, Japanese maples, swamp cypress and Chinese tallow trees. At least for a season, the grey-green or olive-green natives are outdone by a spectrum of exotic colour.

Autumn finery: I could tell you that as deciduous trees shut down for winter the fading of green chlorophyll exposes the yellow and orange hues latent in some leaves. Bright sunlight and crisp nights turn to red the glucose trapped in other leaves. And waste matter left behind in others turns them brown. It’s a fascinating insight, but somehow it doesn’t communicate the fizzing brilliance of their autumn finery.

Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)
Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

A thousand shades of green give way to the spicy intensity of gold, butter, saffron, honey, lemon and topaz. Amber, tangerine, salmon and mandarin merge into henna, russet, scarlet, crimson, cinnabar, vermilion, enriched and deepening into mulberry, plum, purple, maroon, copper, bronze, hazel, cinnamon, sienna and umber. I borrowed my daughter’s set of 36 coloured pencils to draw three leaves I picked out from autumn’s carpet on one of my walks. There weren’t enough colours.

Golden glow: One of my favourite seasonal show-offs is planted modestly on the nature strip in a quiet cul-de-sac—a maidenhair tree or Ginkgo biloba (see feature image). With a genealogy dating back 300 million years to the Permian period, before the dinosaurs, it’s actual age is probably closer to 60 years. For 11 months of the year it goes quietly about its business, shading and cooling through the warmth of spring and summer, and in winter allowing the sun’s rays to trace its elegant leafless canopy. But for about one month in late autumn, the green in its fan-shaped leaves steps into the background to reveal a deep buttery shade of yellow. Touched by the late afternoon sun, the maidenhair’s golden glow takes your breath away.

Pay attention: Writer Annie Dillard observed that “we are here to witness and abet creation. To notice each thing so each thing gets noticed … so that creation need not play to an empty house”. Taking it further and deeper, as I’ve watched the autumn colours appear this year and have observed the pattern of everyday life, I’ve noticed how easy it is to live like someone who doesn’t know God. I can rush through the streets, impelled by schedules and duties, enthralled by other priorities and never notice the pageant of trees that display the glories of God’s creation, never pause to praise him or thank him for who he is, for what he is like and what he has chosen to create.

Testimony: If I live with my eyes wide open, I can see the beauty and greatness of the Lord as his handiwork overflows with abundant testimony about him. His fingerprints are everywhere, if I will only pay attention. God does not leave me without evidence of himself, any more than he has left me without blackbutts and black tupelos to help me to be mindful of him.

Ultimately, 36 coloured pencils will never do justice to God’s beauty and greatness; they won’t come even close. But that need not concern me, for he has completed a masterpiece and given definitive evidence of himself in a self-portrait entitled, Immanuel, God with us. For in his mercy and love, he has been mindful of sinners like you and me; he sent his beloved and exact Likeness, Jesus, to show us himself and how we might know him. Are we paying attention? Do we even notice or remember?


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