Leaves add color to my life

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monday, I stepped out into the chilly morning and took a deep breath. I smiled as I recognized the smell of a wood-burning fireplace mingling with the fresh fall air. Autumn is finally here and I celebrated its arrival.

The trees along the banks of the lake announced the impending shift in seasons several weeks ago when the first leaves started changing colors. There were only a few of them sprinkled here and there among the dark green of late summer foliage, but they held the promise of more to come.

Now with cooler temperatures, it won’t be long until the woods are a blaze of orange, yellow, red and even purple. I thought about that this morning as I stood at my door looking at the trees in the distance. I love this time of year when Mother Nature paints the landscape in a final burst of color before settling down for a winter nap.

An e-mail I received sent me on a search to learn more about what happens this time of year and why the leaves turn from green to gold. What I discovered is both interesting and amazing.

It seems the leaves do not actually change colors. The brilliant hues of autumn exist inside them all the time. One Web site explained it this way:

Inside a leaf, there are packages of color. The name of the green packages is chlorophyll. The yellow is xanthophylls and the orange is carotene.

During the summer months, the green package is the dominant one that’s busy producing food for the trees. Because it is so busy, the green color covers up any other colors in the leaves.

When fall approaches, the tree prepares for the change by growing a thin layer of cells over water tubes in the leaves; no more water gets into the leaf. As the Web site explained:

“Without the water, the green chlorophyll starts to disappear and the other colors in the leaf — the yellow xanthophylls packages and the orange carotene packages are seen. The leaves don’t really ‘turn’ a certain color — they just lose their green.”

The red or purple leaves are that color because when the layer of cells grows over the water tubes, sugar trapped inside the leaf causes it to look red or purple.

As I thought about the glorious colors we associate with fall, I wondered if there is a lesson here for us humans, a lesson about maturing into our own colors.

What if the real glory of life is not in the busyness that keeps us green — the rush of life to do more, be more, get more. What if true joy comes by slowing down a bit, preparing for the inevitable changes life brings by letting a protective layer of stillness grow so less gets in to upset the calm center.

Perhaps that stillness, that maturity of spirit allows the colors hidden beneath the surface of life to appear and shine with unimagined brilliance. And if, like the purple and red leaves with their trapped sugar, we hold onto a bit of sweetness as we move through life, our souls shine with even more.

That, I think, is a nice thing to contemplate as I breathe in the cool October air enjoying the view of the trees along the lake as the busyness of green gives way to the hidden colors of fall.