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Autumn is a Fire

Autumn is a fire I never want to burn out.

Autumn is a fire, calmly and quietly searing; starting from the tips of the tree branches, and ending upon the grass and gravel. It is burning and burning until nothing is left but an elongated memory, crisped and browned, scattered across the ground.  Luckily, the fire is still clinging to some of the trees. It is still lingering, reminding us of its capability and its beauty. Seeing Autumn flourish in New Jersey can perpetuate the receptivity from a kind gesture. It can preserve the fuzzy feeling after an encouraging interaction. This fire is not damaging, but enhancing. This is the forest fire that regenerates the soil and creates an ecosystem of newly invigorated flora and fauna; this is the fire the Earth needs.

When in the presence of autumn, the once hiding opportunities of gratitude and love can now be noticed, as if Mother Nature decided to pull the graciousness from the air and let it be gazed upon, blazing and blaring. Here it glows majestically in front of our faces. The gratitude flows through each capillary, burning onward, within us, replicating the burning trees that continue to thrive, outside, among us.

And so, to continue to find grace, and capability, and gratefulness, I follow through with self-care by jogging among the trees; these trees that are now beaming in crimson, gold, and coral splendor. Should I look to the sky with the branches still blazing, or should I follow my neon, rubber-padded feet as they continually find crispness left and right, no matter where they step? In the moment, it’s difficult to decide.  Sometimes, the hour is so early or the hour is so late, I cannot see the beginnings of the rainbow among the sky. I cannot see any colors at all beside the golden hues of streetlamps and the different shades of black turning into gray. The colors to guide my inspiration are not present, yet my feet find that satisfactory crunch, reminding me of the life all around, even the life in the dawning stages of death.

Disregarding the question of where to look, the question now becomes, which path do I take? Do I carry on forward, choosing a direction when the road inevitably forks, or has the run gone on long enough, making it time to turn back? I prompted my students with a similar question in regards to their literature. In my English II class, I taught the short story, "The Lady or the Tiger?" The story leaves us with the boy having to choose between two doors: one hiding a ferocious tiger, and the other enclosing a beautiful, fair maiden. Which does the boy choose? The reader never knows. The story has an open-ending, leaving us with no resolution. This frustrated a majority of my students, which sparked their next assignment: write your own ending essay. Perhaps this lesson in the classroom is a larger metaphor for a lesson in life. Life is a series of choices. Sometimes it comes down to actively making a decision- picking a path. Which do I follow, the trees or my feet? And which voice do I listen to, my head or my heart? I suppose the answer is the seemingly noncommittal one, which is, a little of both. Look to the trees, but watch where I am going. Listen to what my brain is saying, but don't let it override my passionate heart.

Luckily for us, the extremity of choosing only one door does not have to apply. We can live in harmony. This Earth and its ecosystems upon it need to remain balanced, or they will not thrive. We need to remain balanced, or we will not thrive. The forest fires need to rage onward in order for seeds to be dropped; in order for there to be transformation and rebirth. Similarly, personal regeneration can be painfully vulnerable; nonetheless, it is imperative if one is ever to grow into strength.  

And I leave you with this long, but pertinent exert, that may have you relating, or at least, thinking:

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier; nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farm boy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them,

can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought; I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers; I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

Hermann Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

Written by Kristen Alestra

Collier Youth Services 

New Jersey Community, 16-17


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