I have a different understanding of autumn. Most people see the leaves change colors and fall to the ground, and they celebrate the beautiful colors and rain of leaves. Everyone romanticizes the meaning of the colors and the season. Red has a special meaning in China and so hundreds of thousands of people go to a neighboring mountain in Beijing to see the red leaves. Autumn color tourism is big in the New England area of the U.S. Autumn is the “golden season.”
When I see the leaves change, I don’t think beautiful, romantic thoughts. I don’t see any religious interpretation or cultural reference. I see the science behind it. The plain, dull truth. The leaves of a tree are green thanks to chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a dominant green pigment that uses sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into simple sugars that feeds the plant. Chlorophyll is continually used and replaced in the tree. During warm months, the green tree grows into a bigger green tree. As the weather gets colder in autumn, the sun is actually lower in the sky because of the earth’s tilt. We simply get less sunlight. With less sunlight comes the colder temperatures that deter the trees ability to move food energy and replace chlorophyll. As chlorophyll decreases, the other pigments in the leaves begin to show through. Eventually the leaf dies on the vine and falls to the ground, in a blaze of vibrant glory.
So I fail to see the beauty in that, or rather I see the true macabre reference to an honest fascination with death. In the autumn, thanks to a decrease in the sunlight (that humans also need for survival) the tree is actually experiencing a slow death. If the sunlight were to continue to decrease, the plant as well as all people would die. To me, the display of “beautiful fall colors” is nothing more than a tree’s slow, beautiful death.
And I can’t get over the confusing double standard assumed by people. Death is something people fear, loathe, dread, or deny. It’s not something you’re supposed to accept, let alone rejoice and celebrate. Not where I grew up.
I first discovered this difference between my interpretation and those around me when I was about 9 years old. Since that time, I have quietly explored the world’s religions and philosophies about this and other absurdities. Over time, I’ve learned that death can be beautiful, predictable, and even a time in which to rejoice, much as people rejoice in the dieing trees of autumn. This thinking has not gone unchallenged but it has helped me to acknowledge and accept the death of just about everything and everyone I love. Since boyhood, I have considered this kind of thought when attempting to identify my place among people and in the world.
I celebrate the lifeless wind and rejected leaves, as I would celebrate any other symptom of death. Autumn is innately colorful but not innately beautiful. Death is life’s terrorist—a part of life we can fight and war against but never claim a natural victory over. To many, autumn is not death. To me, death is very much alive, in autumn too. As a kid, I was really frustrated by my inability to communicate my thinking. As an adult, I have a receptive audience and communicate well enough. I can easily tell you about the beautiful death that you love so much.