In all my years, I’ve never seen anything like it.
I guess that after so many trees died or almost died in last summer’s hot drought or in the raging summer fires, those trees still here are now greatly rejoicing at actually being alive. Or perhaps they fear that this is their last hurrah. Either way, the forest is glorious, glorious in autumn splendor, and it just goes on and on and on, clear into winter. There’s surely never been an autumn like this one. Each day I think, “OK, this is the peak, this is as good as it gets.” Then the next day, and then the next, another set of trees blazes forth with new vivid color.
Everywhere, the forest looks like it’s on fire, but this time it’s with turning leaves , splendid in red and gold and yellow and scarlet and umber and orange and a hundred other shades of color I can’t match with all my watercolors put together. Week by week, the sheen from every deciduous tree, one by one, blazes out vividly against the dark evergreen pines around me. Even the dogwoods that last summer I thought were dying somehow managed in the last few months to regrow enough leaves to be now red in leaf and berry, as if to say, “I’m still here! Look at me, I’m still here.”
I know, it’s true enough, not only the trees are behaving strangely, the whole vegetative world down here is confused with the severe climate changes we are experiencing. The yellow jasmine is blooming, as though it were spring. The faithful tomatoes, like the trees, suffered the severe summer heat ,and I got not a tomato one all summer, but this fall, amazingly quickly, the tomato bushes set fruit, and there were many tomatoes to be picked, however green, by the bucket full before first frost (something that I’ve never done before); these determined tomatoes, survivors, have since stayed on the floor in my study, ripening slowly and sweetly, and now I have fresh homegrown organic tomatoes midwinter—another reminder that this is a December unlike any other I can remember.
The message is clear, of course. Life holds on, and when threatened, puts forth its best and most amazing efforts. Its beauty and vitality is most tenaciously revealed after there is the threat of its loss altogether.
A lesson I take to heart. Walking today on a quiet trail, the wind tossing a shower of gold all around me, I remember who I am, why I am, what this all is, and why I care. I sing my praises yet again, in the chant that came to me years ago while walking, then, beside the Pacific Ocean, “…oh, so beautiful…how beautiful thou art….”
Of course, that is the proverbial message of the season.
From the beginning, there were the ancient celebrations of the winter solstice, when first humans began to realize that the freezing and darkening times would cyclically change back to warmth and light, no matter how unlikely that seemed.
Later, there were the Hebrews, celebrating the magical replenishment of oil for light and heat long past time when anyone could imagine it possible.
And there was also the story of the birth of a godly child, not in a temple or a castle or any other imagined appropriate place, but in a stable, and this child was born indeed, not to a king or a priestess, but to a simple couple without a home to shelter them during the birthing.
When many in my world are homeless, hopeless, without the strength to reimagine their lives in a new strange season, I turn again to this winter message. A message of hope. Of endurance. Of courage. Of stamina brought forth by nature in trying times. The message of the trees, the jasmine, the tomatoes, the survivors.
And so, because I care, I send you, herewith, a bouquet of golden leaves, a harvest of ripe tomatoes, a walk beside a natural spring of water that did not dry up, even in the terrible drought. I send you, setting aside occasional miscellaneous moods to the contrary, my own ecstatic joy, my precious simple bliss at the miracle of being.
Here. Still. Look at me. Look at us. All of us. In this life, and the life to come, wherever, however it may be, surely it is, will be, yet, shining, glorious, like the trees.
In the turning times, in the changing seasons and changing circumstances, we turn again to praise the beauty of the earth, of life, of each other, while every spiritual tradition, each in its own way, is saying, also, “Yes, this! Rejoice and praise this! Take heart and hope. Raise high the anthem, any circumstance to the contrary, there is goodness, there is beauty, life and love are good, very, very good!”
May you have a peaceful, joyful, happy, fruitful holiday. I hold you in my heart, most tenderly, most prayerfully.
Earthsprings Retreat Center