Walking Through Colour: Contemplating The Restorative Life of Autumn at the Equinox

red-leaf-green-moss

Have you ever had moments when you realize you are moving through pure colour?

I have.

About 13 years ago I was hiking in Banff with a couple of friends. We reached a small isolated mountain tarn. It was like a cross between a deep sapphire and a turquoise. We emerged from the forest, but across the waters were steep slopes of scree and a few glacial chips.

It was an understatement to say that the pool was cold!

Still, my friend and I ventured inwards, powered through the chill, and reveled in the remarkable experience of moving through nearly perfectly clear water while swimming in colour. On our hike back down, my friend hung back with her boyfriend while I went on ahead for a spell. I came to the lake watering the valley floor. It was larger and longer than the tarn at the top, but no less jewel-like or stunning.

I shucked off my shoes once more (and few clothes since I was alone, praying my friends wouldn’t catch up too soon) and dove in. The sun was lower in the sky by this time, so I turned my face to the west and felt its warmth on my skin as my body adjusted to the watery chill.

I was suspended between heaven and earth in a nearly perfect bathing of colour.

I dove, did somersaults, swam as deep as my lungs would allow, and then burst through the surface as high as I could manage. It seemed to me that the colours themselves were Gilead balms soothing a battered life which, back then, was struggling just to survive daily life.

It was a prismatic baptism of renewal.

Autumn is just such a season in the same way for me — renewal, restoration.

Every day I follow my walking route. Part of that route has me trekking along a short unmarked trail across the lakefront. I am towered over by poplars, willows, and other colouring deciduous trees; there are spruces and mosses that spurt final a final brilliance of green before winter comes; leaves turn red, yellow, gold, and orange. All around me, from tree top to forest floor, I am surrounded by vibrant colour that sings, smells, and speaks of life.

torn-red-leaf

Many of us know and understand what Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is. Even people who aren’t formally diagnosed know and feel the impacts of the short days and long nights in our northern climates. When we aren’t exposed to enough sunlight our moods struggle, our appetites change, our sleep cycles are disturbed, and we battle with depression and anxiety. Even getting out of bed in the morning is a war because all we see is darkness: we get up in the darkness, and it’s dark even before most of us leave work in the afternoon. Life becomes even harder when we have stretches of cloudy or snowy weather, or when the sunny weather is just too frigid for human beings to be out of doors for more than a minute or two.

As I was wandering through my autumnal sanctuary yesterday, I had a strange thought: what if autumn is one of God’s ways of restoring us before the darkness comes? What if all of this colour, a sign of death and dying and sleep in many respects, is also a sign of life? Colour gives lift to the spirit, muse to the imagination, and energy to dreary moments. When we are literally suspended in these places bursting with colour, how can we not absorb the power of all this crazy, last-ditch energy around us? How can we not be transformed by these colours?

Well first of all, we have to notice them. Perhaps even before that, we have to want to notice them. We have to remember to notice them. In our scurrying around with back-to-school frenzies and preparations for winter, even the most brilliant of falls can be all too easily missed.

Once we’ve noticed how alive and vibrant our world has become in this special way that only autumn can offer, we can start to reach out a bit. We sniff the air and pick up the pungent scent of wood smoke, and the sweet emissions of sap as trees prepare for a wintry sleep; we are drawn to the flaming red leaves contrasted with the bright green moss and the deep blue of the lake, even if we aren’t sure why; we think of cavernous temples and sanctuaries as poplar trees tower over us with their boughs heavy-laden with golden leaves; and we become almost giddy with adventure as we walk down well-worn paths now carpeted with fallen leaves and petals. As these fallen discards of spring swirl around our feet, suddenly we’re hit with an unannounced rush of “Anything is possible! ANYTHING!”

Walking through colours.

This wonder, this delight, this perfectly-logical-yet-topsy-turvy season of God draws us in so that we, like bears who forage for berries before their winter hibernation, can prepare for the dark times ahead. Anyone who’s experienced deep depression knows that we can’t simply call up a beautiful autumn when we’re in the midst of the darkest part of the darkness. That’s an impossible call. We’re blind. We can’t see anything, much less have energy to even try.

But…

…as we schlep through those dark nights of the soul, we have flashes. It’s during those flashes of relief, of comfort, and hope that we can learn to call up these autumnal spaces — these sacred spaces that suspend us in colour — and realize that these aren’t just nice memories. We walk (or swim) through these living scenes of colour because they bring healing for us, both in the moment and for times later on when the wilderness takes over.

So if you find yourself walking by a lake, a path, a lane in your city park, and it happens to be extra colourful at this time of year, STOP.

Stop.

Drop your bag, park your bike, park your car.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Look for the veins in the leaves; look for the contrasts; look for God in the details. Be overwhelmed. Move slowly, run like hell through all the colour (because you can), raise your arms, sit down, twirl, sit on the side of a bridge and mull it all out.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Take in all you can of autumnal colour. It is healing. It is wonder. It is God’s reservoir, preparing us for the darker seasons to come.

But we don’t need to think of the darker seasons right now. Or right here.

For now, the reality that we are moving in pure colour is more than enough to excite and delight us. These alone bring healing and remind us of how loved we are.

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