Not Yet Winter

William Stapleton

I sat, long ago, on an Asian hill with a Shakya Mundi friend, and watched the autumn leaves fall down from high above, giants in the forest casting off their wakefulness, falling progressively into winter’s long, white sleep.

“The important thing to know about trees” he said, “is that they are most beautiful in autumn; just before the winter snow. 

They live and grow through the entire year just for these brief moments of stunning beauty.  We are like that.” He said, “but we have only one autumn, and a very long winter.”

In days to come I stood amazed, walking through that forest, at the blazing symphony of color it brought forth, seemingly just for me.  I grew to love my friend’s words in a new way, through the astounding beauty of the spectacle he knew was coming when he said them.  I was young then, and didn’t know I had many autumns ahead of me.

At length I watched my mother shed the glory of her days, that long-awaited winter in her eyes.  Sadness gripped; I saw her colors fade, and thought the Shakya Mundi words once more; and knew for this world only they were true. Winter sets in, but we hear rumors of infinite spring, made no less real by its place beyond our greedy, prying gaze.  Ancient of Days has made it so for her and for me; for all who will hear and see. Doors He opens cannot be shut.

Today, again, I call to mind my old friend and the sad perseverance of those words. Now they have outlasted him.  A lesser light in the constellation of my life, they were the full measure of his truth. Could I but return in time, my words would blaze, like leaves of trees, the brilliant truth I knew.   Now I wonder:  Has he passed through autumn?  Is cold, dark winter his reality?   Did he not hear the whispering harbinger of spring?

I see truth in those enduring words, incomplete and interrupted though it is.  We are at our best and brightest, our most creative, truest color just before winter.  I had been lately thinking of an inexorable drawing down to meaningless, cold, darkness.  The chill slips in like a draft through the window.  An end, I say, to conflict, challenge and the sorting out of one cruel circumstance after another. How easy to simply fall asleep. 

This day, though, I hiked another autumn wood.  Eastern Europe ancient; overgrown.  So thick the view was dark at just a few feet off the path.  All red and yellow; orange and brown, a million trees, each in blazing preparation for long, frozen winter.  I cannot but recall my old friend’s words, lasting long, though he did not, and the instant truth that follows.  Looking upward at the fiery canopy, matched against the bright cerulean sky, I embrace autumn!  Winter surely comes one day, and spring beyond.  I have a winter to prepare, but it is not yet.

October, 2008


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Not Yet Winter by William Stapleton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.