Stop looking at the ground, start looking at the leaves

Stop looking at the ground
start looking at the leaves
up among the dirt and rust
is where the kingdom breathes.

You’ll see freedom

–The Collection, “The Gown of Green

Autumn in West Virginia is always breathtakingly beautiful.

The display of vibrant colors on mountainsides and through river valleys never ceases to impress and amaze me.

And while nothing can quite match the visual splendor of what we call “leaf peeper season” in these parts, there’s something quite magical about the later weeks of fall that always captivates me.

There’s this sense that something is happening.

Some folks naturally view autumn as a time of death as the earth turns brown, the skies turn gray, and the days grow short.

But it’s not death.

In fact, it might be perhaps the most dynamic part of life.

When it feels like hope is dying

I’ve been thinking about this metaphor between the changing of the seasons and where we are as a society right now.

Unquestionably, there is much strife in our world.

A global pandemic rages on, robbing hundreds of thousands of our neighbors’ lives far too soon.

Politics divide us as perhaps never before. Hate has emerged from its dark shadows and lives in the open, egged on by power structures that peddle in fear and loathing as they consolidate wealth and control.

Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high, especially among younger generations.

In many ways, it can feel like hope is dying.

I have to admit to feeling a bit of that myself lately.

Which creates even more anxiety because it’s so uncharacteristic for me.

Ask my friends to describe me, and most will tell you I’m generally always positive, always upbeat, always looking to make each moment one worth living in.

For those of you into the Enneagram, I’m a 7. The Enthusiast.

But it’s hard to stay positive when so much negativity is in the air.

It’s difficult to be hopeful when it seems like lately every hint of hopefulness is quickly buried by layer upon layer of disappointment.

When we look into the late autumn woods, it’s easy to become fixated on the coming lifelessness of winter.

But what if something else is happening?

The weight of air

I spend a fair amount of time in nature year-round. Even when I’m at home, I enjoy a back-porch view of a small creek in the foreground of a wooded hillside that rises steeply to a ridgetop overlooking the Ohio River Valley.

Several days each year you can find me wading in trout streams or hiking along trails in the Monongahela National Forest nestled among the Potomac Highlands region along the Allegheny Front.

And when I’m in deep in the woods in late October and early November, I’ve noticed something.

Life is still happening.

You may not so much see it amongst the thick blanket of fallen leaves, the bare branches, and the brown undergrowth.

But you can sense it.

There is an aroma to it, if you’re paying attention.

The air has a certain feel to it, a weight.

It’s as if everything is being drawn into the earth…all this unseen energy being gathered into the soil, waiting to be released again.

Death never gets the last word

I suspect we often think of winter as a time of dormancy between growing seasons.

But lately I’ve started to think of it as a time of recharging.

And that thought is starting to give me a glimmer of hope even as those layers of hopeless disappointment seem to continue to grow unabated in our public life.

Something is happening.

Something is being amassed deep within the fabric of the existential reality around us and within us.

We may still have a long winter of conflict and negativity to weather.

Inevitably—and certainly unnecessarily—there will continue to be death as both the pandemic and human ignorance persist.

Our current election cycle is awash in uncertainty, both in terms of the outcome and the potential fallout.

There may also still be a thousand tiny deaths to face in our public institutions, in our relationships, and in many of the ways of living to which we’ve become accustomed…and maybe even feel entitled to.

But death never gets the last word.

Rekindling hope

I’m no Pollyanna. I’ve been around too long and seen too much to not have a fairly thick crust of cynicism.

Things very well might become worse before they get better.

But somewhere, despite everything, there’s a glimmer of hope that’s starting to be rekindled.

Like a discharged battery, it may take a long time to for its full strength to be restored.

But autumn never lies.

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