When my children were young we used to gather colorful leaves and iron them between pieces of waxed paper to preserve them. There is something magical about the wonderful colors of fall leaves. They are everywhere, now, and people echo their beauty with doorstep pots of chrysanthemums in yellow, red, gold and rust. When I was growing up people didn’t decorate for fall or Halloween. People gave parties—I remember one year my parents gave one for adults. This was once also a popular time for divination games, which often centered around finding one’s true love.
I am enchanted by the colors of the trees at this time of year. I could almost believe that if I were pulled over by a policeman I might appear intoxicated. That’s a joke, of course, as for many years my body has not tolerated more than a sip or two of alcohol, and that only on rare occasions. No, what I would be drunk on is the beauty that glows along the roadsides. As I drive around on my errands these days, the slanting rays of the autumn sun shine through the reds and golds of the turning leaves, leaving me breathless.
I feel fortunate that I have the eyes to see it and the heart to appreciate it. I remember a conversation I had once with someone who was chronically depressed. When I said something about the beauty around us she shrugged and told me she couldn’t really appreciate it. Although she didn’t say it I could tell that she was simply too sad to do so. Her mind was totally preoccupied with her troubles and sorrows. I felt for her.
The gorgeous display that is the essence of a fall in New England is something many people travel here to see. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to live in this part of the USA. Nearly thirty years ago, before we moved to Grafton I spent seven years in Virginia. While we were there I found that the leaves that turned did not do so with much intensity, and I missed the brilliance of our autumn very much. When a great many years ago I was in southwest Texas in the fall I felt the same. I was three I have lived here in New England since I was three years old, and perhaps it is in my blood. One thing is sure: each year I look forward eagerly to the changing of the season and the beautiful colors.
One of the houses we lived in had a window that looked out over a very special Maple tree. The colors that brightened the leaves would begin with a single branch, sometimes as early as late August. How I enjoyed it when that patch of leaves burst into color. The loveliness of nature in autumn warms my heart in a way that enlivens my whole being. I am so very thankful for this special gift of loveliness, free for the gazing, billowing over the hills and presenting on yards: our New England fall.
As a child I looked forward to fall. I enjoyed the swish of the leaves as I shuffled through them and the crisp air redolent of the smell of burning from people’s yard clean ups. Each year I collected colorful leaves and treasured them until they dried up and crumbled. When my children were small we collected our favorites and ironed them between sheets of waxed paper. We’d tape them on the glass storm door or onto windowpanes. The wonderful variety of colors and the way the each leaf is uniquely designed by nature has always fascinated me.
Recently, driving down the highway I gazed with pleasure at the vista of the changing leaves. In some places they had already turned, and the autumn colors had emerged in a blanket of bright hues. However, in a few places summer’s green still predominated. Then I noticed an outstanding patch of red in the midst of a section of green leaves. It stood out so strongly that my eyes were drawn to it and lingered until I had driven past it. That particular section of leaves seemed so vivid compared with the usual display of roadside color.
The patch of brilliantly red leaves I had just passed wasn’t especially large, yet it overpowered my attention in a way that the conglomeration of greater color had not. As I drove I thought about the difference between it and the other colorful leaves that lined the roadside. I realized it was the contrast that made it so strong. I was reminded of how Shakespeare spoke of the light of a candle in the darkness saying: “So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” There is something about contrast that enhances the presence of what is outstandingly lovely to experience. The same is true of scarcity or of specialness; these enhance the way something is experienced.
I realized that my attention had been drawn to the brightness of the red against the darkness of the green. A hillside of lovely fall leaves is a beautiful sight to behold, yet without contrast my eyes soon grow used to it; I don’t see the view with as much interest or delight. The same thing applies to taste. If all the food on my plate is bland, it all begins to taste the same. If it is either entirely crunchy or entirely smooth I don’t enjoy it as much. With what I hear, the same applies: What makes Beethoven’s music so special to me is the interplay of loud and soft, thunderous and sweet.
This is also true with regard to life in general. I enjoy it when things go smoothly, when everything falls into place, when people show up when they’re supposed to. I am grateful for the excitement of winning, the feelings of accomplishment when I am praised. Yet without at least temporary failure, without glitches, without the serendipity of strange twists and turns, life would not be nearly as interesting or as vital. While I may lament a loss or mourn a missed opportunity, because of that contrast I am even more grateful for my gains and my successes.
There is something about New England that is very special to me, and a large part of it has to do with the fall here. I grew up in a town (now) called Manchester by the Sea. Every year I anticipated the joy of the fall leaves and the crisp air that made me feel so good. A brief seven year stay in Virginia only confirmed my love of New England. I thought the weather there was much too bland. Happy to return, I have found this area to be a special place to live.
These days as I drive along Grafton’s scenic roads my eyes are drawn to the brilliant changes in the foliage. The green of summer has faded and grayed the leaves. Now the cool nights and days transform the landscape as the dusty pallor of early fall gives way to fresh reds and yellows. I can’t help ooing and ahing while I work to keep my focus on the road. I am grateful for the speed limit. It is easy to maintain it because I simply cannot drive faster and also gaze at the enthralling color.
I have loved the autumn ever since I was a young child. The smell of burning leaves–no longer common in these days of pollution control, as well as the sharp, damp smell of the brown, fallen leaves after a rain have always warmed my heart. I even enjoyed going back to school because it meant a change from being bored at home. Fall meant new things to learn and new books to read.
There are many reasons fall is my favorite season. I am grateful for the bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables that it provides. I also enjoy the crisp air, the opportunity to wear a cozy sweater and scarf. Most of all, I love it for its rich palette of color. In some mysterious fashion each fall seems the most beautiful. It seems to me that every year the previous autumn pales in comparison to the one I am entranced by now. In addition as the days grow cooler, my mind grows sharper.
This increase in mental acuity helps me to be more mindful. Being mindful is vitally important, especially at this season, because it helps keep me focused. It is all too easy to be distracted when I am driving along past the colorful autumn vistas as they unfold before me. My attention could be caught and held–dangerous when I am driving a car.
The years Stephen and I have spent meditating have had many benefits, but most especially I value the beneficial impact meditation has had on our minds. Meditation as we practice it is a way of doing exercises for the mind. The time we spend working to stay focused is like lifting weights or doing sit ups, only for mental rather than physical strength. As I drive through the autumnal glory I am grateful not only for the beauty that fills my eyes, but also for the ability I have to keep my eyes on the road.