Beauty in the dying days

The leaves have fallen, lying in damp clumps. Cooler weather and rain have brought on a bloom of mushrooms and lichen. Plant stalks have withered and tumbled over in the wind. But wherever you look, there is beauty in these dying days. The photo with this story is of a dead holly leaf. Photographed by my talented friend Chris Roberts, it captures the perfection still glowing within the leaf. Eventually, the leaf will become skeletonized; its inner structure as fine as lace.

In our youth-obsessed society, the obsolete and dying are cast aside. But take a closer look. Behind that wrinkled face is a mind full of experience and wisdom. Those gnarled, age-spotted hands create beauty with a needle and thread. Leonard Cohen’s fading voice wrapped like silk around the lyrics he wrote, inspired by a lifetime of experiences and knowledge. Not new or trendy, just beautiful.

My favourite cultivator is worn, the once-bright blue paint on the handle almost gone in some spots. It was my grandfather’s, and is better than any cultivator I have purchased in the past forty years. I still use my grandmother’s pastry cutter. There are shiny new ones with sharper tines, but this one feels good in my hands. I don’t need – or want – a new one. Within that damp clump of leaves, a miracle is happening. The leaves will decompose, leaving behind nutrient-rich humus to replenish the soil.  Beneath the soil, the worms are busy mixing the decomposing vegetation into next year’s lettuce patch. The mushrooms and lichen feed a forest full of birds and insects. There is abundant life within all that decay.

I have an arrangement on a table downstairs. It is bare, twisted branches and seed pods in an antique brass vase. Simple, elegant, showing the beauty that was hidden behind the leaves and flowers. I don’t polish the vase. The patina gives it richness and depth.

As the days grow shorter and the trees become bare, many people despair at the loss of summer’s heat and fall’s bounty. We are reminded of our own mortality – the days and years slipping by to the inevitable end.  Go outside. Enjoy the beautiful tracery of the branches against the darkening sky. Inhale the lovely scent of the fallen leaves and examine the exquisite beauty of seed pods, mushrooms and lichen. There is beauty in the dying days.