The Secret of October Trees

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

I never liked fall. Yes, it is pretty to look at. But I believed that, every year anew, it was the icy cold and darkness of gloomy months that made trees shiver and robbed them of their precious leaves. And I love trees. They are beautiful creatures; strong and resilient, wise, mighty and calm. To me, fall was not much more but a time to grieve over lost sunshine and warmth, a vexing reminder of life’s transience, the announcement of months upon months of deadly frost.

Then, I learnt that trees aren’t involuntarily bereft of their glory — they decide. When light and temperature reach that moment, they know it is time, so they choose to slowly and graciously rid themselves of their leaves. Without the colorful baggage to worry about, they save enough strength throughout winter to care for the rest of themselves and stay perfectly healthy and alive.

This means that, when October draws to a close and the first inklings of snow hang in the distant air, the rustling of fallen gold is not a reminder of death; it is a reminder of life. It is a reminder that the world out there knows that winter is coming, but it is faithfully turning its mind towards spring. It wants to live. With unwavering determination it already takes care that it will bloom again, and it has done so for thousands of years.

Suddenly, autumn no longer calls for melancholy. Fall is a reassuring proof that life trumps death. That everything passes. That even in the midst of apparent decline, the seed for the next explosion of color and life and warmth is always already imagined. Even the deepest of winters already contains the vibrant summer lying ahead in all of its light-flooded force.