I got lost in the woods Saturday.
No, not in a good way in which I spin under the trees just for fun, as scarlet leaves fall around me and a stream gurgles and a chorus of birds and frogs and crickets sings me out of my troubles and into the arms of God.
No. I got lost in a less fortunate kind of way, the way in which I find myself driving for more than an hour on the Blue Ridge Parkway, wondering if I’m going the right direction and WHERE THE HECK IS AN EXIT SIGN? This road is beginning to feel like the Hotel California, and Siri has apparently ditched me, even though she made it up the mountain just fine. All my car will tell me is that I’m going northeast which doesn’t sound good, though I’m not sure what that means because I don’t know where the heck I am in the first place. So I’m wondering WHY IN HEAVEN’S NAME DIDN’T I BRING A MAP? and I’m watching the needle of my gas tank quiver below the quarter tank level. Meanwhile Laura, my dear new friend who stubbornly refuses to be negative, comments how beautiful the trees are and isn’t the full moon beautiful. I take my eyes off the road for a second and notice that YES THE MOON IS FULL AND BEAUTIFUL which means it’s almost dark and we’re going to be stranded on the side of this deserted road and it’s already cold and I have no blankets, so we’ll have to cuddle, which may be awkward since our friendship is new.
Oh, and there are bears.
No, this isn’t the part about the world going to hell. The world is GORGEOUS, even when I’m plugging along through it at 45 miles per hour, gripping the steering wheel, searching for an exit marked I-26.
But as I drive, I notice all these millions of leaves on the thousands of trees we pass, (and pass again as I give up and turn around and backtrack,) the ones turning pumpkin orange and Midas gold and blood red. I wonder if they weren’t waving at me, trying to get my attention, trying to tell me something important: something I can remember as I worry about the world going to hell.
Yes, I am worried about that, about the election going the wrong way and what might happen after that. I bet you may be too, even if we sit on opposite sides of the fence. (Though I really don’t understand why you’re over on that side, the side that loves the fence so much and even wants to build it higher. But I digress. I know the leaves might be talking to you too.)
So after thinking for a few days about those leaves waving and quivering at me, I wonder if they might be trying to tell me their story. Do you know it? Let me tell it to you. Stay with me. It’s a good one.
Once upon a time, summer turned to fall. The nights got longer, and as they did, something weird started happening to the leaves on some trees. Right at the juncture where the leaf meets the stem, cells started having a party and dividing wildly, multiplying and multiplying without taking more space. Before long, these cells made a cork-y traffic jam in the transport of minerals from the roots to the leaves and in the other direction too- taking sugars from leaves to roots.
With the traffic shut off, chlorophyll couldn’t make it to the leaves. Ever since the leaves first budded, the chlorophyll had been pumping in, keeping the leaves green. But now the supply was blocked. The leaves would have to show their true colors, the yellows and oranges that were there all that time, underneath all that green that made all leaves look somewhat alike.
Other leaves had sugars trapped in the leaves with no place to go, given the bottleneck. These sugars manufactured chemicals called anthocyanins, which produced stunning reds and purples. My favorite! Yours?
As autumn got closer to winter, the blockage of cells between the stem and the leaf got dryer and more corky, until finally the leaves broke off and drifted to the ground. All the colors, the reds, golds, purples and oranges broke down on the forest floor, fading and crinkling. The only colors remaining are the tannins, the brown ones. The End.
Sorry. It’s kind of depressing now that I tell it. Add in some kids and a dog, jumping in leaf piles and throwing them around. Maybe that will help.
So how is this supposed to help us with our worries about the world going to hell? I don’t know how it helps you. It might not at all. But here’s what the leaves tell me. No matter what happens, even if the world turns dark and fearful, even if I’m not nourished or fed a steady flow of inspiration and hope, the leaves remind me that I’ve got to keep showing those true colors underneath, trying my best to be who God made me (us) to be, loving people, loving God, listening to others, celebrating beauty and truth and sacrifice, looking for God in those I encounter, working to make life better for all. The reds and purples, my favorite hues, didn’t come from the tree in power. They made those colors themselves, by God’s design! Darkness, too, can cause beautiful things to happen.
I’m trusting you, God.
I’m voting, and I’m trusting in you, no matter what.