On our first “aspen hunting” trip into the mountains, I remarked — prosaically, I know — that the view reminded me of broccoli and cheese. I missed the crimson and scarlet familiarity of central Virginia. That year, with a tiny toddler in a baby carrier, we looked for but couldn’t find a walking trail into the fluttering gold we’d glimpsed from afar.
We’ve grown and wandered through several autumns since then, and now we have favorite paths, with tree-friends I’ve come to recognize. We went up on Sunday to see them. Lucy and Little Jo spent some time on a tiny overlook sketching the view, and I marveled at the vermilion tints on some of the aspens, lingering under one of them on the way back. I wanted one little leaf with a mark of scarlet on it, but my silent, seconds-long search yielded nothing.
“You should check downwind,” Y said, watching me scan the ground, “but you don’t have to.” With prescient insight, he had already picked up two marmalade-hued leaves for me — a gesture of high gallantry to an autumn-enchanted soul.
It was the magic hour.
I rounded a curve and came upon a backlit field of tall grass. The tips of the stalks were aflame with the westering sun, and the small green sea they made rolled up to a low rise upon which a few pines and baby aspens seemed to link arms. Past another bend lay a cleft rock with a coronal of trailing green leaves, gilded by a single bright ray.
As we walked, I thought of how wondrous it is that the aspen trees, from their unobtrusive green of summer, transform the way they do. Around September or October they come fully and unabashedly into their beauty, showing in vale and over ridge a textured handiwork of glory that would never be noticed as vividly outside of Autumn.
They are a prayer of mine made visible — about myself, our home, this life, my work.
For this summer I saw yet again how selfishness lies in wait at the heart of all my interactions with others. I also found, hidden underneath my drive to make something that “matters,” the simple but strong desire to be loved — a good need, a valid need, but one that can’t be fulfilled by those I am to serve.
Even now I often have to remember to measure the worth of a task not by how well and widely it was received, but by the plain knowledge that it was obedience to the Lord to do it. There are days when the question “What is the good?” comes dully on the heels of every creative effort, when all homemaking and mothering work feels futile. My self-absorbed heart seems continually bent upon twisting away from its King, and it berates me in unison with the not-inaccurate voice of my Accuser.
I am feckless and frail.
My failures are many.
And I am justly condemned, save for one thing:
I am not rooted in promises of my own making.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10, ESV)
May I never hold lightly the simple, glorious miracle in these familiar words.
As the months and years pass, I hope — with a confidence not in myself — that they will reveal that something has been deep at work in me. That when I come empty-handed before the throne of the King of Kings, something golden and enduring from this life will speak of the effect of His sacrifice and dauntless love. Here is a branch that would not have borne fruit, but for its Vine.
So then, in this season of wild revelations of color in the trees, I ask that
the falling away of youthful abundance,
the cold touch of earthly sorrows,
and this fixed gaze upon the beauty of the Son of God
may uncloak the stuff of eternity in me, and in the men and women with whom I stand.
May every season that comes to expose our hearts uncover the bright mettle of Christ.