I have been enraptured by the vibrant colors of autumn magic, drinking in the red and gold. I am grateful for life in Vermont and am in awe of the miracle that occurs as trees crescendo into their fiery brilliant tapestry. But today, I want peak foliage to last longer, damn it! I stamp my foot like a child wanting a third scoop of strawberry ice cream.
“Come early” I’ve always told travelers, “because once it’s gone, it’s gone.” I knew the first sighting on Rt 14 was the beginning of the end. “One rain storm and it’s over.”
Peak experiences are, by definition, transitory. Unless, that is, you have been bitten by the snake of a religion or ideology that claims otherwise. And then you chase peak, like I did, in everything you do and say, poison seeping into your bloodstream, lulling you into a zombied existence and you mistake a cultic gerbil wheel for vistas of God’s glory. I know because I’ve done it.
In cultic settings, there’s often a low-level hysteria that keeps everyone on their toes: alert for a flash of wisdom, or for the other shoe to drop. Perhaps this tension makes the dangling carrot omnipresent, maintaining ‘life in the pressure pot’.
Trees, on the other hand, cycle their presence with a grace of their own. They offer shelter from a blistering sun, a safe harbor for countless species. They provide sturdiness for a weary back and branches that reach for the stars. They communicate through a massive underground nervous system and drop a bounty of nutrients in their fallen ocean each autumn to nourish winter’s seeds. Humans hold sacraments of marriage and death beneath their wide refuge. The generosity of trees astounds me.
Cult survivors and seekers alike have much to learn from trees - to temper our lust for the heights, to welcome the ebb and flow of natural rhythms. Could we learn discernment, patience and gratitude from the leaf cycle? I watch leaves drift to earth, send you a silent prayer and breathe deeply. Through observing, tending and thanking the trees I can begin to see myself, and my brothers and sisters with humble eyes and honesty. No one can sustain peak experience year-round. We fall, we hunker down through winter, we bud, swell and leaf out. Can we also learn to recognize when the fool-hardy or dangerous ones present themselves, proselytizing and promising peak experiences? We can shake our heads and watch carefully. And we might still sometimes wish for never ending peak. But we know we won’t get it. And we do our best to find the beauty in stick season.