“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT)
Well, another fall has come and gone. Oh, I know it’s just November 11 but that’s the talk I hear from a lot of nature photographers. It seems like for many the only thing good about autumn is the two to three weeks of beautiful fall foliage. Considering how spectacular those two to three weeks can be I kind of understand where they’re coming from—anything after that pales in comparison. Perhaps, but I’m not quite sure about that. I love photographing fall foliage as much as anyone else but I believe autumn has so much more to offer than just colorful leaves and reflections.
Where I live in western Kentucky we are well past peak fall foliage. Many trees are already bare and the rest of them will be soon. Even so, I’m excited because I know before long the great flocks of snow and speckled geese will be arriving at the Wildlife Management Area nearby. They will be joined by tundra swans and a number of other species that we do not see the rest of the year. The return of the birds is as much a part of autumn as the turning of the leaves.
Another thing I like about late fall is the new vistas that are available. When the trees are bare you can see into places and spaces not possible when the trees are covered with leaves. A walk in the woods takes on a whole new look and feeling in late autumn. The incredible patterns of tree branches hidden when covered with leaves in and of themselves become a wonder to behold. In some ways there is more to see in late fall than at other times of the year.
Upon reflection it seems kind of strange that so many people associate autumn primarily with colorful leaves. There is certainly far more to fall than beautiful foliage. Perhaps if we could remember this we would enjoy the season more. And that goes for each of the seasons. Winter is about more than snow, spring is about more than flowers blooming, and summer is about more than sunny days. The Creator has blessed us with so much to see, experience and enjoy throughout the entire year but if we are not careful we’ll miss a lot of it. I suggest we be careful…
(I took the pictures shown above near my home in Henderson County, Kentucky.)
Summer is my least favorite time to photograph for a number of reasons. Autumn, however, is one of my favorite times. I can’t wait for the fall colors to arrive. Most years I plan vacations to places that experience autumn before we do here in Kentucky so that I can photograph fall foliage over an extended period of time. Autumn is such a special time! Here lately I’ve pretty much been biding my time until fall arrives to do photography. I was pretty sure there wasn’t much out there to see and photograph in early September around these parts. I was wrong.
A couple of days ago I decided to go out to Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area with a friend to photograph. I really didn’t expect to see all that much but I knew it would be good for my mental and spiritual health to get out in nature. It quickly became obvious to me that I had been foolish to bide my time until fall to get out. I was only in the Sloughs a couple of hours early Wednesday morning but I discovered so many wonderful treasures and got numerous images I really like. It was amazing! If I had waited until fall colors arrived to go out to photograph I would not have the images you see displayed here.
My experience this week reminded me once again that at no time is there a shortage of marvels to see in God’s Creation. Admittedly, some days you will have to look harder than others to find these marvels but they are certainly there. The key is taking the time to look and being open to what is there each day.
Upon reflection, I’m convinced that our experiences with God are somewhat similar. I believe that God is there each day for us to see and experience but we may miss out by not being on the lookout for what God is doing or being open to the fact that God is actually there. I also think we can get into a rut, not unlike my photography experience, and start looking so forward to an experience that is to come in the future that we miss what is happening this very day. Maybe it’s a spiritual retreat we are looking forward to, or perhaps a special conference or concert. We look ahead to these events and just know that we will experience God there. There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to those times we know God is likely to reveal Himself to us. There’s nothing wrong with this, that is, unless it keeps us from experiencing what God might want us to see, hear, or feel here and now.
In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul says “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” One of the things this verse teaches us is that none of us are smart enough to figure out just how or when God will show up in our lives. If we are wise we will learn to live each day in eager expectation of what the present day might hold. I suspect if we did this we would experience far more of God than we presently do right now.
The fall foliage has finally gotten nice in western Kentucky. I’ve not been able to get out and photograph much due to demands at work but I’ve enjoyed seeing the beautiful colors as I drive around town. The hues of autumn bring me a lot of joy. That joy is tempered however by the knowledge that the colors will not last long. In a matter of days the trees will be bare and will stay that way until spring of next year. Realizing this I try to take time to enjoy the fall foliage while I can and encourage others to do the same.
One of my other fall rituals is trying to remember that there are important lessons to be learned from nature this time of the year. For example, fall helps me to remember that some of God’s blessings are fleeting and truly must be enjoyed while they are present. If we wait until tomorrow it might be too late. I also recall this time of the year that just as the autumn foliage brings sustenance to my spirit, when the leaves fall they give sustenance to the earth as well. As trees lose their leaves it can seem like a death when in reality it is only a continuation of the circle of life.
A few days ago I did manage to go out one morning for a couple of hours to photograph in Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area. While I was focused on taking images of cedar cypress trees in the Sloughs a friend pointed out to me some lovely acorns on an oak tree just a few feet away. I took several pictures of the acorns and surrounding leaves. Later it occurred to me that these acorns play a role similar to the leaves of the tree. They, too, will soon fall to the earth below them and bring nourishment to both wildlife and the earth itself. What might appear to be an end for the acorn is in some ways just a beginning.
Nature seems to have more than its share of reminders about God’s intricate economy. Just as in the natural world death and life form a circle, it is clear in the Scriptures that death and life are closely tied together spiritually. Those of us who are Christians affirm that both abundant life and eternal life are gifts made available to us as a result of the death of Jesus. We also remember that there are numerous calls in the New Testament for followers of Christ to die to self. Jesus once said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24) If we are unwilling to die to self and live for both God and others we break the circle of life God intended. At the same time, when we do die to self and live for both God and others not only do we find true life but we become channels of life for others too.
The selfish side of me would like to see the autumn leaves stay on the trees for a very long period of time but I realize that this is not what is best for the trees or for the earth. The selfish side of me would also like to have the world revolve around me but, here too, I recognize that this is not at all what is best for me or for those around me. As paradoxical as it may seem, if I want to experience life to its fullest and help others experience the same I must die to self. Perhaps God knew that this would be a difficult lesson for some of us to learn or remember so and He gave us some great object lessons to help us grasp this truth. All we have to do is watch the leaves and acorns fall to the ground this autumn.
(I took the top image at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, KY, and the rest at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A.)
I love autumn. During the long hot days of summer I start counting the days until fall arrives. I enjoy the cooler temperatures that come this time of the year but I especially enjoy the show nature puts on during the autumn months. I get excited when I start to see the foliage changing on trees. I know what lies ahead and eagerly anticipate the time the leaves will “peak” and display their awesome palette of reds, oranges, yellows and burgundies. After all, isn’t that what fall is all about?
If you happen to live in an area where there are plentiful deciduous trees you might be tempted to say “yes” but I hope you understand that when it comes to seeing Creation fall has far more to offer than just colorful leaves. There is so much more to see and observe this time of the year. Wildflowers may be more plentiful in the spring but fall also has its own delightful specimens. My favorite are the asters but there are others to choose from. During the autumn months you might notice birds you don’t typically see other times of the year as they migrate south. If you look closely perhaps you will also notice changes in behavior and looks in various animal species. Deer and elk, for example, experience the rut season during autumn and lose the velvet on their antlers.
During the autumn months the length of daylight diminishes significantly. You may even notice that the sun now sets in a different direction than it did a couple of months ago. An elder in my church has a home that sits on a hill overlooking the Ohio River. Earlier this year he asked me to come to his house and take pictures from his porch of the sun setting on the first day of each season. The first image I took was at the summer solstice. When I took the autumn equinox picture I was amazed at how much to the south the sun now set. I had not really paid that much attention before.
As we continue through the autumn season I encourage you to pay attention to all the changes you see happening around you. Don’t focus on the obvious alone. I often write about God’s two books on this site, the Bible and Creation, and would suggest that when we do focus only on the most obvious changes in nature it would be comparable to only reading the books of the Bible we like the most. There are lots of wonderful passages in the Scripture that people rarely read or take notice of. They miss out on a lot when they are selective with their reading. In the same way we will miss out on learning what God has to teach us through His book of Creation if we just pay attention to the parts we like the most. By all means enjoy the beautiful fall foliage this year but keep your eyes open to the other signs of autumn. There’s much more beauty to behold and lessons to learn.
(I took the top image at Breaks Interstate Park, the whitetail buck at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the sunset on the Ohio River in Henderson, KY, and the asters at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.)
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
George Eliot once said “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” I don’t know much about George Eliot but I have to agree with him on this one. I love autumn and would, indeed, like to be a bird that could fly about the earth just so I could experience one autumn after another. In a sense I guess I’ll be doing just that this coming week. In a couple of days I’m flying (by plane) to Maine so that I can photograph the beauty of autumn in New England. Each year I try to go somewhere that fall colors arrive earlier than they do here in the southern Appalachians. I do this so that I can experience the splendor of fall more than once.
There is much about autumn that I enjoy. I love the cooler temperatures that come with this season. I enjoy the evenly balanced hours of daylight and darkness. Autumn brings back wonderful memories of fall festivals when I was a kid, hayrides, and playing in leaves. But most of all, I enjoy the colors of autumn. Primarily I’m referring to the reds, yellows, and oranges of fall foliage but, as Rob would be quick to note, there are also delightful colors to be found in fall wildflowers. Here my favorite is the unique blues of asters.
One of the things I don’t like about autumn is the beautiful colors do not last long. By the time November rolls around most of the leaves will be off the trees and the flowers will have died. Even if I were a bird I could only fly so long and then there would be no more autumns to enjoy. Winter inevitably arrives. It helps if we can admit this upfront. If we know that something will not last forever hopefully we will be wise enough to enjoy it while we can.
As I continue thinking along these lines I realize that the brevity of autumn is a good reminder for all of us to live in the present moment and to make the most of the occasions we have to enjoy Creation and life itself. It’s a call to “seize the day” and not wait until it is too late to do certain things we should. This could be viewing nature’s glory but it might also be telling someone we love them or perhaps “I’m sorry.” Autumn’s brevity also includes the reminder that the things and people we love and enjoy most will not be here forever and, for that matter, neither will we. For that reason we should never take anyone for granted or even a single day of our lives. Yes, autumn has much to teach us if we are ready to listen, ready to learn. May God help us all to be good students.
(I took the top image at Baxter State Park in Maine. The bottom two images were captured at Acadia National Park, also in Maine. I plan to visit both parks this coming week.)
A little after 11:00 tonight autumn will officially begin. I’d be more excited about that if they weren’t predicting a high of 94 degrees here tomorrow. I’ve seen a number of recent news articles indicating that this summer has been the hottest one on record. This fall may prove to be warmer than normal too. Still, I have no doubt that the temperatures will soon be more comfortable (for me, anyway) and that the annual brilliant show of autumn colors will shortly begin to make an appearance.
The changing of the seasons is actually something God has promised. In Genesis 8:22 it says, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” This is the promise God gave to Noah following the Flood. Much later the prophet Daniel would remind others that it is God who causes the seasons to change. He said, “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes time and seasons…” (Daniel 2:20-21)
Even further down the road the apostle Paul spoke of God being behind the changing seasons and how this bears witness to His goodness and faithfulness. Speaking to a group in Lystra who thought he and Barnabas were Hermes and Zeus because they healed a crippled man, Paul said “turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony. He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
As the seasons change once again today we are reminded that God has ordered this and that it is part of His good plan for Creation. We are also reminded that the One who consistently brings this cyclic succession is faithful and can be counted on. This truly is the testimony of the seasons!
(The top image I took at Rocky Mountain National Park in late September. The bottom picture of Maroon Bells was also taken in Colorado about the same season of the year.)