With its invigorating breezes, plentiful apples & all things pumpkin spice, fall may be New England’s best and brightest season.
Each year, millions of tourists & residents venture out to enjoy what this remarkable region has to offer. And nothing attracts more attention than our rich & bountiful foliage.
From the deep green hues of summer, the land becomes ablaze with brilliant burgundies, radiant reds & gleaming ambers of autumn.
But the beauty of our hillsides belies the harsh reality that these colors represent for our deciduous friends.
A reality that highlights their ingenuity & tenacity in the face of darkness – and one that offers an important life lesson in surviving our own toughest trials
First, what makes the landscape so rich with color?
During spring and summer, the landscape is awash with familiar hues of green. These shades appear as a result of the pigment chlorophyll, which reflects rather than absorbs green light.
Hence – the leaves appear green.
While chlorophyll may be most visible during the growing season, leaves also contain a number of other pigments, including xanthophylls, carotenoids & anthocyanins. However, these pigments are masked by the constant production of chlorophyll, and thus are not visible until autumn.
As fall approaches, the dwindling light & cooler temperatures signal the approaching winter. As a result, cells at the base of each leaf stem begin blocking nutrients to the leaves.
Chlorophyll production subsequently slows & eventually stops – unveiling the leaves’ bright oranges & yellows.
Because nutrients are blocked, sugars become more concentrated in the leaf. And when these sugars interact with a protein in the presence of sunlight, the resulting anthocyanins bring us the season’s brilliant reds & burgundies.
Hey, who said sugar was all bad?
But why bother losing the leaves at all?
Though they add a certain je ne sais quoi to the landscape, leaves are energetically expensive.
Sure, they collect a lot of sunlight, but there’s a whole lot less of that to go around in winter.
They also create a heck of a lot more surface area to collect snow & ice – a monstrous liability that can wreak havoc on the tree’s health and longevity.
Indeed, if you’ve ever had to shovel snow, you can appreciate its back-breaking weight. And with leaves serving as virtual mitts that can capture a substantial amount of ice & snow, keeping them through winter would only lead to busted branches & a broken bole.
Even if it appeared minor, any damage would leave the tree open to infection, insects, or disease – all of which could ultimately cause its demise
Trees have “learned,” through the process of evolution, that dropping their leaves before winter is advantageous to their survival. While they may not grow during this time, they are able to survive the harshest conditions that life can throw at them.
And when spring arrives, they will reawaken as they do each year – welcoming a season of new life & bright beginnings.
What the Trees Can Teach Us
Despite the dilemma faced by hardwoods, they have learned that the burden of carrying their extra weight is greater than the cost of letting it go.
While we may not be able to drop appendages at will (nor would I recommend that you try), if we look closely, we can find our own life lessons embedded in the extraordinary colors of fall.
1. Let go of what doesn’t serve you.
As trees carry their leaves, so, too, do we carry the weight of our life experiences with every step. And it influences everything from how we interact with others to the ways in which we view the world.
Over time, these experiences wear us down – leaving us to face some tough decisions.
Though we live in a culture that tries to convince us that we can do anything if only we put our minds to it, the reality is that our resources are finite. Whether its emotional, financial, or otherwise – we can’t expend energy in every direction ad infinitum.
We can try – and we often do – but invariably it ends in disaster.
To avoid these burnouts, we have to decide that the burden of carrying the weight is too great, and continuing to do so will only cause us further – if not irreparable – harm.
That decision comes at different times for different people. But once it’s made, we have to focus on shuttling our energy towards the essentials that are most likely to keep us moving forward.
Though they aren’t easy, these decisions can be made easier with this sample exercise from my 8 week program, Outdoor Meditation. Here, you can identify your stressors, learn where you have control, and determine how best to invest your limited resources.
2. It’s okay to stop growing.
We often hear that we should “never stop learning” and “never stop growing,” but the fact is that life is complicated.
Sometimes, you’ll struggle.
Sometimes, you’ll suffer.
And there will be times when your troubles will weigh heavier on you than a 12-inch snowfall in March.
Our culture often expects us to be cheerful, productive, grateful, centered & successful nearly every moment of our lives. And when we aren’t, we better be “hustling” to make it happen.
But the truth is that you can’t always “do epic shit” or “go big or go home.”
Because when you’re embedded in the sharp, dispiriting days of life’s winter, sometimes the best you can do is survive it.
You aren’t physically nor emotionally capable of growing every.single.moment.
While these trials may be times of profound growth and reinvention in hindsight, as they happen, sometimes the best and only thing you can do is buckle down and hang on.
If you find yourself in a difficult moment, mindful breathing can help refocus your racing thoughts. Though you can breathe at whatever pace you like, it can help to breathe in through your mouth for a count of four, hold for four, then breathe out for a count of four. Repeat for as many cycles as it takes to help you calm you mind & regain your composure.
During difficult times, you can also encourage yourself to spend time outdoors – even something as simple as a 20-minute walk can help boost your mood & leave you feeling revitalized.
3. Spring awaits.
When the cold & darkness of life envelops you, it can feel as though the lush green landscapes of spring will never come.
That the bitter wind that’s left you chapped & raw will never relent.
But just as it has for thousands of years, spring awaits.
With its bright beginnings & energizing spirit, it will come to breathe new life into the world around you.
It doesn’t always feel that way, and if you find yourself unable to cling to that hope, know that you can always reach out to a professional to find help. And if you & your doctor determine that medication may be the best route, please know that there is no shame at all in doing what you feel is best for your own health.
You can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime at 1-800-273-8255. There, you can learn more about how to find not only immediate help if you need it, but also develop a safety plan, build a support network, learn how to help others & much more.