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FALL FESTIVAL OF COLOR
E. Norbert Smith, Ph.D.



The view from my truck


For the past several weeks I have been hauling freight while crisscrossing the United States from Wisconsin to New Florida and from Massachusetts to Oregon. The spectacular display of autumn foliage has at times overwhelmed me, especially in the Carolinas, the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and in West Virginia, where it seemed, each new curve and hilltop brought ever more brilliant colors. At times in literally took my breath away and I must confess occasionally the beauty of God's Creation brought tears of joy to my eyes. Perhaps I have spent too much time creeping up mountains in the truck lane. Or maybe it is because I have been too long in western Oklahoma. Yes, even in my home state we do have a change of seasons and even some fall color, but compared to what I have recently seen, it is muted. Mostly our autumn is designed around a theme of brown. We have regular brown, light brown, dark brown, reddish brown, yellowish brown and a few grays. I have been enjoying the uninhibited fall colors of the north and east and spent many hours contemplating the meaning of such profound beauty. I believe the Holy Spirit has given my something to share with you.

First let me try to describe some of the major players in this fall color festival, knowing neither words, nor photograph nor painting can do God's fall festival justice. As I followed various meandering interstate highways through the forests of eastern America many kinds of trees, shrubs and vines contributed to the awesome beauty. If awards were given for consistency and widespread distribution poison ivy and sumac would certainly be contenders for the prize. They add beauty to nearly every mile in every eastern state. They add a splash of red along roadsides and are the first ones in full costume for the festival. Even in the south they seem to be shouting, "Get ready for autumn is approaching." Both are most commonly brilliant reds, but they can vary from fluorescent yellow to orange to deep wine-red. The much-beguiled poison ivy is at its best decorating fences or selflessly dressing a nearby dead tree. Such trees then stand in striking contrast to the still green living trees and add significantly to the forest beauty. In regions with road cuts through slate gray limestone it is poison ivy that drapes garlands of color over steel-gray rock covering its nakedness with beauty.

Sumac stands out for its brilliance and also for its variability. Within a single stand of maybe a dozen plants, no two are alike. One may still be dressed in summer green, alongside it another is deep red and yet another brilliant orange or yellow. Seedpods high atop each plant are trimmed is in contrasting deep red too nearly black. Some point skyward like candles lifted up to their Creator in praise, others bow gracefully in reverence.


It just keeps getting better and better.


Other standouts include sycamore, birch and high in the Rocky Mountains aspen with their bright yellow leaves and snow-white branches and trunks. I think it no coincidence they shed just enough of their leaves early in order to display their beautiful bleached white bark. A few trees retain their summer green while others drop all leaves. The contrast is striking. Willow in some regions of Oregon stretch for miles and appear like rivers of pure gold.

No doubt the Olympic champion of the fall festival is the beautiful maple. While others whisper the approach of winter; maples shout it. As with sumac and poison ivy maple colors vary from green, to deep red to brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. Often two trees standing side by side show contrasting colors. At other places a single tree may show branches of green and red and orange and yellow. The same is even true for individual leaves. Individual maple trees are showstoppers, but seen from a distance they seem to make the whole forest shout loudly that autumn has arrived.

Even the forest floor is brightly garnished. Ferns make a soft lush carpet of yellow. The fallen leaves together combine to make a brightly colored patchwork quilt calling children and adults alike to come frolic in its beauty. Even the falling of leaves is not without fanfare. They never merely drop, but each does a complex dance of spins and tumbles before adding its beauty to the forest floor. Another aspect of the fall color festival caught me by surprise. That is, it's ephemeral nature. The peak of color and beauty lasts at best but two or three days. As suddenly as it appears the leaves drop and winter arrives. All of these sights along with the smell of fall are indelibly etched in my mind from my recent travels. Now let me get on with my revelation.

As a Christian, I have always seen purpose in Creation. Trees were created to provide man with refreshing shade and wood with which to build things from toothpicks to mighty ships. Some trees, even in the Garden of Eden, were given to provide food. Others provide important fiber and medicines. All provide beauty. In college my appreciation for trees deepened as I learned about photosynthesis and the importance of all green plants to remove carbon dioxide from the air and provide the oxygen we breath. As a sidebar, there is absolutely no evidence of global warming to date. Yes carbon dioxide is increasing although man's contribution pales along side natural sources. There is however and effect. Instead increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is acting as a fertilizer and increasing plant growth worldwide. But that is another topic.

More recently I have learned to respect trees for two other important reasons. It seems they are capable of removing many air pollutants and even toxic wastes from the soil. In many cities living trees are no replacing sound fences. Trees are even more effective in sound reduction, add beauty and clear the air of automobile pollutants. Many now recognize our government has wasted untold millions of dollars cleaning up toxic sites by moving the material someplace else to be dealt with later. It now appears planting poplar and other rapid growing trees instead could have solved the problem. All of these things are important, but I believe they are only secondary to God's Design of trees and leaves. Let me restate that. It seems to me all the important uses of trees from shade and food to building material and even photosynthesis and waste removal are all secondary to the real purpose that God created them. I will explain shortly.

As Christians we cannot help but see God in the beauty of His Creation. "The Heavens declare the glory of God." Non-Christians do not see this evidence of God for two important reasons. The first is spiritual blindness. Peter tells us in the last days ungodly will be "willfully ignorant" of Creation and The Flood (II Pet 3). It is not for lack of evidence, but fear of facing God in their lost condition. The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.

The second reason is pseudo-intellectual and dominates our world today. The teaching of godless evolution has made even the self-evident truth of God-in-Creation difficult to accept. Let me illustrate with one example. The beauty of flowers is explained away as merely the result of evolution to attract bees for pollination. I remember in plant physiology class asking my professor about the beauty of fall foliage. Surely fall colors serve no important function to the tree. I remember asking, "How or why would evolution select for such a brilliant display of colors?" To this day, the response angers me. I was told fall colors result from the accumulation of waste products inside the leaf. Nothing more. I was told to think of it as nature's garbage dump. Nonsense! Where there is design there is a Designer. Where there is beauty in nature there is an Artist...and I know the Artist.

Yes, God did create trees for food and shade and to provide shelter and wood. Yes, God created trees to purify the air and soil. Photosynthesis is important. Yet I am convinced all of these things are secondary. The primary reason God created leaves and trees is to honor Him with the spectacular offering of praise I have been witnessing. The tree-covered hillsides are shouting a thunderous ovation of Praise to their Creator. Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD; for He is coming to judge the earth. (1 Chr 16:33, NAS)

At first I was impressed with the beauty of single leaves or individual trees. I collected leaves and photographed single trees. I was missing the message. This was akin to trying to listen to a single instrument in an orchestra or to a single voice in a choir. It is the collective beauty of a thousand hills decked out in endless patterns of brilliant color from ten of thousands of trees each with countless leaves. Nature's garbage dump? Absolutely not! God created leaves to spend their entire summer life accumulating pigments for the sacrifice of praise we see as a brief moment of fall color. In death each leaf fulfills its purpose. Fall foliage is a reminder of Another whose death fulfilled a Purpose. It is God's hand that feeds the wild beasts and it is His hand that plants the trees. I now see mountains as canvas on which our Creator paints such beauty it takes my breath away and floods my eyes with tears. What an AWESOME God we serve. Could it be the trees are so spectacular in their sacrifice of praise, because we fail to praise our God wants and deserves? Think of this the next time you see God's festival of colors we call autumn.


Oak and Maple in contrast


Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel. (Isa 44:23, NKJ)

For you will go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap {their} hands. (Isa 55:12, NAS)

How can we enjoy the annual fall festival without giving thanks to Him who made it all?

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Rev 4:11, KJV)


Fire in the woods.


Trees
by Joyce Kilmer
1886-1918

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.