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This is the autumn of all our anxieties.

Early autumn is performing well. The leaves are lovely, about at the height of their color now, the maples in hues of crimson, orange and gold. Aspens yellowing. Redbud blushing. Not just the trees; the shrubs, sumacs and even low-lying blueberry bushes — all in shades of red. Meanwhile the goldenrod continues to decorate our unkempt corners.

September weather was extraordinary: One warm, sunny day after each cool night. We’d almost forgotten to check the forecasts, lulled into the expectation of bright days for outdoors activities. Rain at the end of that month and showers at the beginning of this served to wash the landscape, intensifying the colors.

The near-drought conditions may have accentuated the color, as well, given that the chlorophyll in the leaves requires constant water. Chlorophyll masks the true color of the leaves, which is what we see in autumn.

The collar at the end of each leaf stem chokes off the sap from reaching the leaves. We see the chemical signature, for example iron in the soil contributing to scarlet leaves; or the effect of soil magnesium, sodium or phosphorus. Limestone produces blue in some species. In general, poplar, birch and willow are bright yellow; white oak is tan; beach leaves turn deep brown; ash, purple. The list of scarlet is lengthier, including red maple, dogwood, sassafras and redbud. Sugar maple displays a spectrum of its own.

It is a chemical miracle, this autumnal flowering. A good season for berries, apples and other fruits, as well. Plenty of acorns for the wild animals. A dry season for vegetables, many of which nevertheless withstood three frosty early mornings. All this should promote good feelings and comfort in our lives: “Come, ye thankful people come, raise the song of harvest home, all is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.”

Rather we struggle to retain our footing in a morass of COVID-19, racism, income inequality, threatened health care, precarious schooling, a battered economy, climate change as it intensifies fires in the West and floods in the South, a Supreme Court vacancy, loss of international leadership and a national election in less than a month. These matters cloud the life-giving vibrancy of autumn.

All of these issues come at us in a time when we are limited, by COVID-19 restrictions, from the normal contacts and discussions with friends and colleagues that could serve to relieve our stress, or at least allow us to vent — and, when we are deprived the cultural solace found in live music, art, drama, lectures, organized discussions, sports and in-person religious services.

This is the autumn of our anxieties. While based on exterior reality, they are ours. The outcome of the election will not completely erase them, pretty as it is to think so. Hating Trump won’t cure us. We cannot rely on the season, friendships or culture to solve our problems.

It will take a deep dive into self to determine our true colors. We are the only ones who can overcome our anxieties. Self-pity is counterproductive. Autumn is behaving beautifully. We need to do likewise. We need to blow away the clouds. Let us use the autumn of our anxieties to reduce our anxieties, by being better people — better than those we oppose, better than we have been.

At least, that’s how it looks from the White Oaks.

Lauren R. Stevens is a writer and an environmentalist.


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