Season of Gold
Fall is a time of dying. Plants are dying all around us, leaves are drying up and falling off trees, and the insects that have surrounded us all summer have disappeared. Yet we don’t worry about it because we are confident that these beings will all be renewed come spring time.
I took the above picture from the banks of the Kennebec River in Vassalboro, Maine, in late October. On either side of the river are trees with fading leaves, some trees are bare, and brown grass dominates the foreground. Undeterred by waning life all around, the river continues its endless journey to the sea.
I like taking photos of dying plants. There is a certain elegance in their withered bodies. They no longer have the vigorous appearance seen during the height of summer, but their essence still comes through despite their fading colors. Most people like to photograph fall foliage at the height of the color – vibrant reds and oranges and yellows. I prefer the leaves just before they fall, with the darker hues of tan and brown. I see gold all around.
This particular photo is a broad panorama and doesn’t really capture the colors of the trees to their fullest. I took a series of photos on Long Creek in South Portland last fall that celebrated the late-fall color. Honey-colored grasses were the perfect complement.
Last spring, I took a photo of some brambles. This was the remnants of a plant after winter had passed. It was dead, or dormant, yet ready to be reborn. You can see the hooks in the brambles, ready to latch onto a passerby and drop a new seed elsewhere.
We don’t get worked up about the passing of these plants, because we see their lives as we do a the river – continuously renewed, yet ever-present. The lives of many individual plants are fleeting, and yet we know others will come along to replace them. This year’s leaves go out in a blaze of glory, but months later fresh green buds start the cycle all over again. The dying is a part of the living.
We don’t have the same feeling about the deaths of other humans. We sometimes seem to believe that the death of a person is tragic. This is understandable when we lose a family member or friend who was a big part of our lives, but we sometimes think the same when strangers die. We think it sad when we someone whose body has become old and withered, their skin and hair losing the vibrant pigmentation of their youth, as if life has somehow been unfair.
As sad as it is at the time, however, the death of a human is not tragic. Dying is a part of living, and while each of us dies, the human race continues on without us. Humans, as with the plant life around us, are continually renewed. We are like a river, collectively working our way through the centuries.
And so I try to see the beauty, the elegance in other people as they age. This hasn’t always been easy for me, as I was decidedly uncomfortable with “old people” when I was younger. But as we age, we don’t change our essence. We are the same people, with the same soul and spirit, just carried by bodies that have changed over the years.
And though I am sad when people die, I am no longer sad that people die. Death is a part of life, and indeed the survival of the human race is impossible without the eventual death of the individuals. Death unites all humans, and unites humanity with all the other species on the planet. The greatest Redwood trees live for hundreds of years, but they too will die. And as with humans and all the other animals and plants, we will celebrate their beauty during their golden years.