I seem to see red everywhere. As summer fades into fall and the turning begins, the color that stands out most this year is red. Autumn is my favorite season, has always been, and I anticipate and revel in its unique palette with the same enthusiasm as a quilter in a fabric store. I know fall colors. This red is not one I've ever seen before.
Sumac, oak, vine maple. Burning bush, parrotia, blueberry. Dogwood, purple ash, sweet gum. All reliable painters of the season. All with their own particular combinations of traditional fall colors. Each sharing this year, at least for a moment or two of their transformation, this amazing red.
There is a translucent, liquid quality that twinkles amidst the fading greens and emerging yellows, reflecting the light of a sideways sun like rubies revealed in a long hidden chamber. Like the first perfect droplet of blood escaping from a cut, this red is life revealed. As striking as the crimson-tipped wing-feathers of the cedar waxwing, the color is burned into memory, heart, and soul.
It stirs something in me, this red. Every new day it shines out from a different place. Even as the rich golds and deep rusts and muted purples begin to emerge, even as other thicker reds warm the hillsides, even as gray shadows soften everything - this red continues to glimmer.
From within the timeless rhythm of the season when lush life is transformed to austere death, this red speaks of the unexpected and unknown. In fifty-seven autumns, I've come to believe I know all there is to know about the season. Until this September, five decades of those autumns were defined by the beginning of a school year, and all the anticipation and predictability and security they offered.
I travel a new road these days - planned, prepared and intentional. Except at every turn, what I thought might be, is not. The map I created with such care all those months ago doesn't match the landscape. Instead of free and easy, I feel uncomfortable and uncertain. I flip from delight, gratitude, and wonder to fear, anxiety, and despair - and back again - hundreds of times a day.
This new red seems a gift to light my way. I'm not lost. It's okay to leave the map on a stump, to set my plans in the grass by the side of the road, and to follow the brightness that beckons.
photo by Jeff Loomis from Flickr