A Change in Color

January 10, 2012
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I stood alone, in respectful silence, to observe a somber beauty. Sunlight flickered through the canopy above me, sending a kaleidoscope of crimson and saffron to the ground. The sun would set soon, but its dying light cast a golden spell on the forest that seemed to slow time itself.
I looked up, studying the leaves that wove together over my head. Most of them had taken on shades of goldenrod, cinnamon and burgundy; but a few still clung to summer. I reached up and took hold of a low branch. The jewels it sported could hardly be rivaled, and I wondered why people sought rubies and citrine when they could just watch the trees? One or two of the leaves stubbornly fought their inevitable color change, preserving a bright peridot in their centers. Nevertheless, a flaming scarlet crept along the edge of each leaf.
I released the branch and let out a shallow breath that clouded in the frigid air. In less than three weeks all of these trees would stand bare; their vibrant dressings lying brown and dead at their roots, a sad reminder of the sight they had once presented. The future image was bleak, and I didn’t want to think about it. Right now, all I saw was pure, unadulterated glory shimmering and glowing around me.
The wind picked up and rushed at the trees, lifting their branches and leaves up in the air like a rising phoenix taking to the sky one last time before it burned out completely. Blazing wings licked at a cornflower blue backdrop, setting up a dramatic contrast only nature could conjure. I watched the bird soar toward the wisps of white clouds that dotted the blue plain, threatening to set them aflame as well, but its unwavering roots kept the impatient phoenix from escaping its fate. It fought though, for some unseen goal. I almost thought the entire canopy would lift from its confines and pollute the sky with rage and color. As it would be, only a handful of feathers were ripped from the phoenix’s wild pelt and flickered to the ground as fading sparks.
The wind ceased and the bird calmed and fell silent. “You will have your time soon enough.” My voice was distant as I spoke. The phoenix would be nothing more than ashes and embers at the end of the month. It would renew itself in the spring, as it always did, only to go up in flames again come fall. The cycle never ended, chasing its tale for eternity.
I took a few steps back, knowing that what I was really witnessing was a spectacular funeral. Each tree was its own inferno, slowing burning up in a self-induced cremation. Why do the trees celebrate their own deaths with ceremonies fashioned like those of the kings of old? Why do they announce to the world that they are about to die?
Fall is a bittersweet time. It ends the warmth and life of summer with seemingly all that beauty can offer, yet it is fast-lived. Winter seems to swoop in and blanket everything in a depriving overcast of coldness. And people take comfort in that, knowing that the cycle is intact and that it will keep on running forever. It’s just how life is supposed to work; you get the beautiful and the good in equal proportions with the ugly and the bad. Death is a part of life, and life a part of death. I look down at my feet, where a vibrant, arrow shaped piece of sunlight had fluttered down from a branch. How could two things that mean the exact opposite be a part of each other? They say that life cannot exist without its counterpart, but I disagree. Death is just the absence of life. If life never burns out, it would go on without end. I think that is true beauty.
Spring, summer, fall, winter, spring summer fall winter…birth, growth, death, birth growth, death… It all sounds like a broken record to me. It keeps catching and repeating and refusing to move onto something better. Maybe the ‘cycle’ isn’t the type of balance we’re all told that we need.
As I turned to leave, the wind began to swirl around the trees, and I imagined how the blazing phoenix would stretch out its wings again, but instead of being held down, it would simply let go of its binding branches and restraining roots and would fly free, unafraid of crumbling to ash ever again.





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