While earth’s varied geographic and climate zones each have a beauty uniquely their own, one of the really special aspects of the temperate zones is the changing of the autumn leaves. The green leaves that budded in the spring and flourished in the summer begin a colorful transformation that give us the incredible display that we see in the fall.
Under optimal conditions, forests will explode into an array of colors from gold to burgundy. This year, the midwest had a fairly brilliant color season, and it got me thinking about the parallels between plant life and human life. A year in the life of a tree seems to provide an interesting analogy for the life of a human. I’ll ask your forgiveness up front if this parallel is a bit tenuous, but it’s been marinating in my mind for a while, so I figure it’s worth writing about. Thanks to Richard Simpson for providing some of the technical details.
In the spring, deciduous trees produce two types of buds: leaf buds and flower buds. The leaf buds obviously grow into leaves, and the flower buds develop into flowers. Over the course of the summer, the leaves go to work producing food for the tree, and the flowers produce seeds, giving the tree the means to reproduce itself. Once the seeds drop, the tree’s main purpose has been accomplished, but its work isn’t done. The tree must prepare itself for the winter, but it also makes one last effort to give the seeds a better chance of survival.
The chlorophyl, which gives the leaves their green color, begins to break down. The component molecules are stored in the tree to be reassembled into chlorophyll the next spring. The remaining pigments in the leaves result in the beautiful colors that we see in the fall.1
After a time, the leaves fall to the ground, providing an insulating layer that helps to shield the new seeds from the winter’s cold. Later, those same leaves will break down and help build a nourishing layer of soil in which the new seeds can take root.
In a sense, maybe our lives are a bit like the trees. Our developmental years are geared toward growing to maturity in preparation for producing offspring. But our job doesn’t end there. As our children are released into the world, we still have a role to play in creating an environment in which our young can flourish. The gold and crimson display of the autumn trees might be a good reminder to us that the later years of our life are still critical. They do not have to be the downward slope that many portray them to be. It is the last leg of a race that demands our best effort. It is a time in which our greatest work may still be done. It is a time to give every ounce of energy to the succeeding generation.
And as we prepare for winter, our inevitable death, we also internalize the things that will be useful in the spring—in the next phase of life when we are released from the constraints of space and time.
Perhaps this analogy has been a bit of a stretch, but maybe one of the reasons the Creator gave us the astounding beauty of the trees was to leave signposts that point us to the truth as we try to figure out our place in the cosmos. Regardless, this year’s display of autumn leaves has reminded me of the important work that remains to be done, and it reminds me that the second half of our lives has the potential to the be most productive time of our life. It may be worth considering.
1Simpson, Richard. “Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall Season?” Ask A Biologist, askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/why-do-leaves-change-color. Accessed 5 November 2019.