Autumn asks

These Blue Ridge Parkway trees are still beautiful even after losing their leaves in November 2011.

These Blue Ridge Parkway trees are beautiful even after losing their leaves. November 2011

“Autumn asks that we prepare for the future —that we be wise in the ways of garnering and keeping. But it also asks that we learn to let go—to acknowledge the beauty of sparseness.”Bonaro W. Overstreet

Maybe autumn has such widespread appeal because it embodies the continual dilemma facing all of us, almost on a daily basis: when to start, when to finish; when to continue, when to quit; when to keep and when to throw away.  At least as far back as Ecclesiastes, people were acknowledging that the wisdom of letting go is every bit as vital as the wisdom of holding on.  The trick is knowing when to do what.

Although New Year’s Day is a popular time to take stock of our lives, and springtime is traditionally associated with “spring cleaning,” we might find that the fall is a perfect time to clear away the clutter — mentally and physically — in preparation for the festive season to come.  As we enjoy the dazzling beauty of the leaves, and then sweep them up or mulch them into compost, let’s observe the uniquely calming beauty of the sparse landscape, and ask ourselves how best to prepare for the future.  Chances are, it will involve some storing away for the winter, just as the squirrels are stockpiling acorns.  But for many of us (and I would suspect most of us) it may involve letting go of even more than we keep.

OK, so I’m the world’s worst at letting go.  But I’m working on it. Today, please join me in appreciating the increasingly rare beauty of sparseness. It’s the perfect season to do it!


  1. This is such a poignant contrast to most Autumnal messages: the harvest moon is a harbinger of lush cornucopias; an abundance hay harvest is gathered into barns; hunters stock the larder, in the same season fat hogs are slaughtered, and stored in the smokehouse. But the magnificiently beautiful leaves do fall, don’t they?

    • Yes, and they become compost that nurtures the trees that produce new leaves in the fall. All around us we have object lessons about sowing and reaping, planting and harvesting, giving and taking away. It’s a comfort to me that the leaves are most magnificent at the end of their life cycle!

  2. Couldn’t have agreed more. Your blog is really great. May God bless you for efforts.

    • Muhammad, thanks so much for visiting my blog, and for your encouraging words! I really appreciate your kind spirit.

  3. Raynard

    I love fall. But the last few months, I got more DYI/Honey”why am I doing this again/More projects that Nasa.. ( Please dont say ‘Busy doing doing nothing or busy as a bee”..( IT’s more like “the opening theme of “The Jetson’s “Geroge yells ,”Jane stop this crazy thing”.. Then add “those old cartoons when someone ran the background never changed lol.Will be taking my annual Christmas Vacation splitting it in half. Cakes to bake, papers to shred,and “emotional hoarding of”stuff” will be”going , going , gone goodbye”..Hopefull I dont get a migraine headache that make me feel like”the fat lady in the circus has a twin and I tried to walk inbetween them”…This weekend my family here and in NYC along with a few friends from church and work, will be going to Lancaster P.A. We are going to have lunch at Shady Maple Smorgasborg. Might post some pics on Facebook or post a Youtube video. DId you every see my “Mr Potatohead/Engagement ring video for my wife? If you need a good laugh, it’s up under 1st half of my email address. Thank you for all you do in the encouragement of others.Be blessed..

    • Raynard, I remember the wonderful Mr. Potato Head engagement ring story from where you posted the link Upper Room awhile back. Unfortunately I’ve never been able to figure out a way to search back through the comments there; I’ve lost track of many people’s email addresses that way. I tried to find the link to where the photo and video are posted so I could share it here, but I wasn’t able to find it. Please send it along, I’m sure others will enjoy it! I hope you have fun in Lancaster. One of our blog readers lives there. Jeff and I hope to go there someday.

  4. Raynard

    Just finished reading my other daily devotional, Our Daily Bread. The scripture was my favorite Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

    • I sometimes read Our Daily Bread too. When I was a very young woman working as a bank teller I had a customer who used to bring it to me each month. Isn’t Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 a beautiful passage? Simple but profound, it pulls seemingly opposite things together beautifully, although it contains many ideas that we still have a hard time with, such as “a time to kill” and “a time to die.” Much to ponder!

  5. Raynard

    They used the song”Turn Turn Turn by the Byrds. I just listened to it and it’s the scripture I just mentioned. This song is from when the 60’s

    • Yes, their version of it was in 1965, although Pete Seeger actually wrote the music in the 1950’s, and the inspired author of Ecclesiastes wrote the lyrics thousands of years ago (and I hope he’s looking down from heaven, smiling to hear us still enjoying these words! :-)). The ancient origin of the lyrics makes the song all the more remarkable in its undying appeal. I just had to go back and play it at the link above and listen to it this morning. It really is a beautifully executed song; sort of makes me miss the 60’s!

  6. Carlyle

    It was only after I began deer hunting that I became aware of the beauty of the bare, leafless trees and really began to appreciate the change of season as fall drifted into winter.

    • I guess you spent enough time sitting in the trees and under them, to see them “up close and personal.” We used to joke that you used deer hunting as an excuse to “escape” out into the woods 🙂 and I know you wrote an essay once about sometimes choosing not to shoot deer who came close. Maybe that’s why you hunted with a primitive bow – the odds are really stacked against you that way, aren’t they? The harder it is, the longer you get to stay out there!

      When the leaves are gone, the intricacy of the branches and the variations in the bark are always so much more noticeable. I love the way bare trees look silhouetted against the sky at early morning or dusk.

  7. Stephen and I just drove over to see Aaron and we drove along the Skyline drive. All week everything here is Manassas was coming into real glory but once we hit Skyline we realized the elevation had made us miss the peak time for color. It was still very beautiful but in a different way. I wish I had more time to drive along there. Love you.

    • Amy, this year in York County was curious where leaves were concerned. Some of the trees lost their leaves before others had even completely turned from green. Maybe someone who knows more about trees can explain how such variations happen, but northern Virginia did not seem to have that off-kilter schedule; we noticed the leaves were much prettier here. We too missed the full glory of the leaves on Skyline drive when we went in late October or early November. We shall have to try it sometime a bit earlier, maybe on a trip to the book festival :-). Love you too!

  8. Scott

    It’s part of the cycle.

    • Yes, and maybe it’s just me, but I appreciate the rhythms of nature more than I once did. Repetition can seem boring to us when we are young and impatient, but it grows more reassuring with age.

  9. John M.

    I have a maple and a water oak in my front yard that go from green to red/yellow to bare in a matter of 10 days, even less if a storm passes through while the leaves are barely holding on. When I was a little younger, I never noticed how quickly it happened, but couldn’t wait to get all the leaves raked up and put in their winter mulch areas. Now, my 16 year old son has the duty of getting the leaves out of the yard, a task about which he complains but does nevertheless. I wish I could tell him how much I love those leaves, love that ritual, love the utility of the whole process, but he wouldn’t understand. One day, he will.

    • Yes, I think you are right; with age, he will understand. I always regret it when a heavy rainstorm washes all the cherry blossoms away before we’ve had time to enjoy them. For some reason, I didn’t think about that being what happened to our trees in York County, but I’m sure that must have been the reason they were bare so quickly. I grew up raking mostly pine straw, and would envy those who had leaves to rake. I do remember raking leaves with friends and then jumping into the piles! Great fun, but as the adults would point out, it didn’t get the job done :-). I think you have many people on this site who totally share your love of the leaves, and the whole process. Thanks for being here!

  10. Raynard, Julia this is the link to my “Mr Potato head/Engagement video on youtube. Did I mention I had a Pigs in the Mud cake video on there also

    • No I had not heard of the Pigs in the Mud cake but I went and watched it – I’ve never seen a cake like that but I can see why it disappeared quickly. Were the pigs edible? I must say your wife was very gracious about getting a Mr. Potato Head as a gift – she must have suspected something was afoot! Thanks for sharing this!

      • Raynard

        the pigs in the mud cake was a dutch recipe, I had to translate to English. The pigs were edible and she learned how to make by watching a youtube video. Mr Potatohead was a sub for a jack in the box. did you notice the ring box attached to the bottom of Mr Potatohead? After it was over my wife said” I had Mr Potatohead when I was a little girl.( my wife and I both have Pinerest pages, A Tip, I copied and paste the link from youtube that I sent you. Gmail now lets you find people by searching your email and if you have them in your contacts. hope this helps or you could go “back to a little black book and scraps of papers lol.

        • Isn’t youtube great that way? you can find almost anything. Not long ago I learned how to do a minor plumbing repair from a youtube video. YES I saw the ring box and I think that is when your wife caught on that something was up – she knew Mr. Potatohead’s ear did not come in a box like that! I have never learned how to work the gmail or google universe that much (except for topical searching) but I’m sure it will soon replace all the other ways of finding people. I guess that’s good because I have little scraps of paper floating around everywhere and can never find them when I need them. I keep thinking I need to buy or make a spindle like the one I used when I was a bank teller.

  11. Sheila

    Fall is the perfect season! I guess trees really do have a “golden season” in a way. I’ve enjoyed the varied comments today. I love the beautiful sunrises and sunsets this time of year. The marsh grasses are yellowing now so we’re enjoying a coastal fall. It’s all a process I suppose!

    • Yes, the coasts have seasons of their own to enjoy. In California I grew accustomed to flowers all year round, but what I looked forward to in springtime was the sight of the beautiful rolling green hills, which all too soon became the sun-parched “golden” color from which the state takes its nickname (or so I was told). Although I don’t live on the beach as you do, I have been noticing that the sunsets seem more colorful lately, pinks and purples and blues. I wish I could say I see a lot of sunrises, but I can’t seem to get out that early :-). Hope you are having a good week!

  12. Larry

    There is another beauty while hunting as well. The beauty of the quiet heard in the woods. A soft breeze blowing or small animals making their almost quiet sounds. You can appreciate these the many hours sitting there when no big game is in view.

    • Yes, I imagine that is a large part of the appeal of hunting. I enjoy something similar when I sit back in our wooded lot. It’s almost mesmerizing and sometimes hard to pull away and go back to the “real” world! Or maybe I should say the “less real” world!

  13. I’ve spent a good part of the day pruning some unnecessary things out of my way to make room for new growth (perhaps after a dormant season). It feels good.

    • Yes, I’ve been doing some of that lately too, and hope to make time for more of it soon. It can be really energizing!

  14. Raynard

    When I first started dealing with computers back in 1999( first one was a used laptop) My adopted DAD said, spend time with it everyday.Went from a hour to a few hours cause ( i Wasn’t hen pecked( when was the last time you heard that one lol) I was pecking at the keyboard..The key to learning anything is heart and desire and then share it with others.( unless you tell your spouse like I did”When I died make sure the hole for my casket is “extra big so I can take all my stuff with me lol Life lesson Number 36, People, how you treated them and the time you spent with them..This Christmas, wont be one with guilt about buying people presents that you really didnt want to and”it’s ok to say no..( Now if I can only get the them song to the Old “Patty Duke Show” out my head.. lol( My youngest second cousin is one of my best friends). Oh a question about banks. Why do they now thave “those pens on chains? didn’t they use to give them away? My second cousin I mentioned use to workin a bank and so did her my mom my late aunt. Use to work with “a union guy who hated banks. He got transferred to ” a bank ie Bank of America lol

    • Raynard, pens on chains are better than no pens at all!! I asked my post office recently why there were no pens on their chains anymore when everyone has to stand in line and could be filling out all those forms while waiting (after all, they have a counter with all the forms, but no pens). They claimed that “the pens run out of ink too quickly so we can’t keep up with them.” I found that hard to believe! I sometimes leave one of those “freebie” pens there or other places where they might be needed. Also – the pens are on chains so people such as I cannot accidentally steal them! I am always losing pens or picking up someone else’s. When I worked at Rich’s department store when I was a teenager, one man I worked with got so tired of me looking for pens that he taped a pen on the end of a shoestring and I wore it around my neck for many months, maybe even years (I worked there 5 years, all through college on my summers and breaks).

  15. I enjoy sparseness. I love decorating for Halloween and Christmas, but I’m equally happy putting it away, as well as keeping the acquisitions to a minimum. I feel calmer with less, and as such edit my home on a regular basis.

    There is so much need in the community. I like passing on my boys outgrown clothes, books and other items that are no longer useful to us. Animal shelters welcome old towels and torn sheets, and many broken items can be recycled. It can be fun playing the game with yourself: how many things can I do without, how many things will make a difference on someone elses’ lives. I love your book exchange, Julia. That’s a great idea.

    Lovely post.

    • Thanks Alys! I will have to remember the animal shelters for the sheets and towels. When Pasha died we had some new, unopened bags of treats and a large, just-opened bag of premium dog food. Our local no-kill shelter could not take either, as per their policy; no opened bags, and no treats whatsoever. I passed them along to friends, but would have preferred giving it all to the shelter. I do find that it’s much easier to let go of anything if I feel it can be used by someone else vs. just thrown away. I’m happy you liked the post!

      • It is easier to let go of things when you know they will go to a good home. I often suggest that as an exercise. If you’re having trouble releasing something, imagining it a new home helps.

        The reason shelters can’t take opened bags is for safety reasons. I don’t know why they wouldn’t take treats, though. Interesting. One of the joys of the internet, is the ease in researching this sort of thing. I now check guidelines before passing on donations (I’ve done this for many clients over the years). Freecycle communities are another great way to pass things on.

        • Yes, someday when I have time, I’d really like to get into Freecycle. Although I’d have to be careful not to bring “free” stuff in instead of sending it out! I do think the internet is making so many great ways of sharing possible. I love it that some libraries now are lending out garden and workshop tools, craft items and even cake pans!

          • Lending tools is a great idea! Cake pans even? I didn’t know.

            Great ideas!

            • I think so too. I wish more libraries would do it. I’ve only read about it online, I haven’t actually borrowed anything as unusual as that from any library. The little library near our York home does lend out Kindles and Nooks (loaded with bestselling books) so people can “test-drive” them to see if they want to buy one. I found that very helpful in choosing whether I’d like one, and if so, what type.

              • Wow! Lending Kindles and Nooks. That’s pretty sophisticated lending. It’s a great idea, though.

                • Yes, and they also lend the talking video books to the kids too. It’s a small library but to my librarian’s eye, is perhaps the best-run and most user-centered public library I’ve ever seen. I was offered a job there when we first moved to Virginia, but I only wanted part time and they had to have a full time employee. Maybe someday!

                  • Maybe someday. They would be lucky to have you.

                    • Thank you!!

  16. This post is as beautiful as the sparse trees! It reminds me of these lines which reverberate in my heart each time I look at the trees in Fall:
    “Delicious Autumn!
    My very soul is wedded to it,
    And if I were a bird
    I would fly about the earth
    seeking the successive Autumns”
    George Eliot

    • Balroop, I love this quote! I had some stickers made up with the first two lines, to put on the letters I send out at this time of year. I think I will have to use the quote on this blog sometime. I too say these lines to myself as I enjoy the beauty of autumn. Thanks for reminding me of them!

  17. oh-o, LOL. I am the queen of ‘not sparse’. I am always trying to edit and make things clean and contemporary, but I always fall back to vintage and time worn. My style (if you could call it that) is to have an eclectic hodgepodge of stuff. Like the library of some well traveled professor. Picture, if you will, cats sitting atop of a pile of books next to a beautiful painting bought in France, siding a settee inherited from great granny Smith, LOL. Since I would normally buy something for the home on a holiday, it’s very hard to part with anything. I did ruthlessly part with a whole bunch of things I loved when we moved, since our locker was full and there wasn’t room in the condo. So my plan is just to move every 25 years or so and clean out then 😀

    • Yes, since we kept our York home, we are coming up on nearly 10 years there – far, far longer than anywhere else (5 years in NorCal was the record before that). Moving mostly every 3 years forced me to get rid of stuff, but now, I’ve got 10 years of stuff and counting! I agree, though, it’s so hard to part with many of my things. I have always said I’d prefer the most shabby inn if there were lots of books available, over a gleaming modern hotel with no books. And I love hodgepodge – it so closely resembles the inside of my head! 🙂

      • NOT:D ! Your head is a machine Julia! Look at all the books, quotes, movies, destination information, medical knowledge, appointments and heaven only know’s what else is indexed and ready at stellar speed when needed. I’m pretty sure that’s a run on sentence, ha!

        • Boomdee, as always, you are so kind! My head does indeed feel like a machine at times – specifically, a computer with a gargantuan hard drive and not nearly enough RAM, so I’m always just a keystroke or two away from CRASHING or, more often and likely, “screen freeze” :-). I have a cartoon on my fridge of which you can see a copy here – truly captures what it feels like from the inside, anyway. But, I really wouldn’t have it any other way – almost everything interests me, and that enthusiasm keeps me going through many a bad day.

          • ha, right on! 😀 This quote is from Mother Theresa:

            I can do things you can not
            You can do things I can not
            Together we can do great things

            I like that idea, why go it alone?

            • I love that, thanks! Mother Teresa left us all a good example.

  18. How I can identify! After a busy spring/summer of travels (some of which involved unexpected loss), autumn led me to clean, clean, clean out the clutter that had accumulated. I love the clearing away, shredding junk mail, and the sheen from freshly polished wood, clean windows and blinds. It’s a good way to face the holidays now. It also provided a bit of “soul-cleansing” as well.

    • Yes, Jeff and I were just talking today about how we hope to do a massive clean out/clean up if he is feeling better in a few weeks. It really does jump-start my energy and creativity levels to clear out the clutter. And with everything that has been going on lately, we feel as if we are knee-deep in paperwork and other miscellaneous JUNK. Thanks for visiting, and for your comment and the link!

  19. “To acknowledge the beauty of sparseness.” What a great line. I was reflecting on the courage of Ruth this morning. It is amazing how people with little but faith to lean on boldly let go of what lies behind and embrace the possibility of God’s generous provisions for the future.

    • That is what I’m trying to do. It’s hard but it does seem to get easier as I go along. Maybe because I have no other choice. But mostly because God always does provide. I keep reminding myself of that.


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