As fall arrives I keep an eye on the trees in East Tennessee, looking for the first changing leaves, wondering when the autumn colors will begin to pop out in our neighborhood, along the highways, and in the Smoky Mountains. As the chlorophyll production, that causes the leaves to stay green, stops, the actual hidden colors of the leaves appear—the oranges, reds, yellows, and golden browns—giving us a glorious show before the leaves finally fall. The longevity and beauty of the fall colors every year are affected by temperature, rainfall, frosts, winds, storms and other natural factors. But generally, the trees in East Tennessee begin to change color by mid to late October, and into early November, so that by Thanksgiving most trees, except the evergreens, are bare.
We sometimes grow anxious about changes in our lives, but trees don’t. As Donald Miller wrote: “All the trees are losing their leaves and not one of them is worried.” A popular quote on Facebook right now, adds: “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go” [anon]. Trees provide many wise lessons for us and these are some of the lessons I think trees teach us about life:
Lesson 1: Trees show us that good things begin small and that growth takes time…. “Even the tallest trees always begin as a seed.” [A.J. Darkholme]… “The day you plant a seed is not the day you eat the fruit” [anon] …Trees remind us that all big and beautiful things in the natural world begin small. They show us the hidden potential in ordinary things, and the importance of steady, constant growth. Growth always takes time and ongoing patience, a lesson we can learn from in a world that is often pushing, rushing, and marked by impatience. Trees remind us, too, that we need to grow deep roots before reaching further upward.
Lesson 2: Trees teach us we need to develop strong roots to live wisely and well. . . . “A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.” [Malay Proverb]… “A tree has roots in the soil yet reaches to the sky. It tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded and that no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance.” [Wangari Maathai] … Strong, deep roots help trees—and us—weather the inevitable storms of life. When difficulties and tragedies come to trees, breaking their branches, stripping their leaves, bringing hardship, they stand strong and patient through it all, gradually recovering and continuing to grow and flourish and fruit. They adapt to the problems and seasons of life that come their way with a calm strength we can learn from.
Lesson 3: Trees illustrate to us the beauty of diversity and the joy of individuality…. “In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.” [Paulo Coelho]…“Trees represent life, growth, peace and nature—with over 60,000 different types of trees.” [Laylee Brensenaki]… Except in fanciful storybooks, no tree yearns to be like another tree or envies another. Each is what it is, true to itself, growing to its best self and type. Trees show us the beauty of diversity and teach us that we are each meant to be unique and not all the same. We need to remain always true to ourselves, fulfilling our own unique purpose to the best of our abilities, like the trees do.
Lesson 4: Trees provide a role model of giving, sharing, and contributing to others. “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” [Joyce Kilmer] … “Trees are constantly working to make earth a healthier planet … Trees provide shelter and food for a variety of birds and small animals…. And they make a difference in lives and in the world.” [Natural Wildlife Federation] … Trees are givers. They provide beauty to the earth, inspiring us, and they work in many ways to make the world better for others beyond themselves. Birds nest in their branches, and many animals live in, on, and around trees and depend on them to survive. Trees give shade freely, provide fruit, nuts, or flowers according to type, showing us a giving role model. In a world in which most are “all about themselves.” trees show us the goodness of sharing and of living in community wisely, contributing to the good of others as well as growing to become the best they can be.
Lesson 5: Trees help to exemplify that every season of life has its beauty and merit…. “I feel a great regard for trees; they represent age and beauty and the miracles of life and growth.” [Louise Dickinson Rich]…“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven… [and] everything is beautiful in its time.” [Ecc 3:11, KJV Bible]… There is beauty in every season of a tree, and trees show us how each season of life brings its own unique grace and wonder. In the Fall trees display glorious beauty even during a time of hard change. In the quiet and cold of winter, trees rest and put down deeper roots. In the Spring, they burst forth with newness, budding with new growth, freshness and joy. And in the deep of Summer, they grow rich, abundant, and warm with life. We pass through our seasons of life, too, not only broadly over our lifetime from birth to death … but in an ongoing manner as the days and seasons we live through ebb and flow, one into another. The trees teach us how to change, and move through the seasons of life with grace and a positive and right attitude, growing and becoming better and stronger, seeing the beauty and possibilities in each season and time. Trees never get stuck in one time or season either and they never retire from the wonder of life.
Walt Whitman suffered an early stroke in his life and claimed coming into close touch with nature, and learning from it, helped him recover. Horace Kephart similarly found emotional healing in coming to the Smoky Mountains. There is a deep comfort in nature available to us that we often ignore, and a deep comfort in trees. They represent life, the wonder and beauty of growth, strength, stability, wisdom, and peace. “For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers,” Herman Hesse wrote. “Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.”
Like the old Sound of Music song I go to the mountains and hills, the parks and out-of-doors, when my heart needs a lift or is lonely. I know the beauty of nature, the richness of the trees, will help to recharge me, bring me new inspiration, reconnect me to my goals, to myself, and to my faith. As John Muir wrote: “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” So…”Get lost in the trees every now and then; it’s good for the soul.”
Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.