Who among us didn’t have Fourth of July fireworks oooohs and ahhhhs in their hearts as our northern Driftless area pass through the 96-crayon box beauty of autumn’s colors?
We were dazzled by the region’s spectacular scenery during the past couple of weeks, no matter where we traveled in the region. It might have been golden aspen leaves hanging from branches arched over our Eimon Ridge, a yellow-and-red maple at a home at Pigeon Falls, a red sumac out by Blair or a mix of all across an Arcadia coulee.
Pampas grass, though otherwise so simple with its white and khaki shades, dazzled us as it posed in the sunlight to show the latest styles of fall’s ditch-vegetation.
I wonder what a soul would be missing to not stand back and look at the entire countryside and use all available senses to consume its beauty.
But its beauty isn’t what it seems.
There’s a painting method call pointillism. In it, the artist painstakingly paints thousands of small dots. Looking closely at the dots gives an impression of random spots of paint that have nothing to do with each other. Only when the viewer steps back and assesses the picture from a distance do all the individual dots melt together into what the artist intended the viewer to see.
The swaths of color we’ve been enjoying are nature’s version of pointillism.
Many years ago, I started using fall’s colorful plants – especially the season’s vast variety of color – as prompts for writing programs. That especially was interesting a few years ago when I delivered bags-full of them to central Florida high school students with whom I was working, many of those students never having gotten so close to northern fall colors.
It’s been those projects that reminded me about the realities of fall’s colorful beauty.
People across the land know about the reds, the yellows, the oranges and so many hues of different fall colors. Even those Florida students who’d never been near the colors had seen photographs of the colors.
Collectively, we see all the leaves as nothing short of aesthetic perfection. Only the greatest of classical artists might capture that perfection, the leaves pulled across canvas by skilled brushes dipped into the artists’ eclectic palettes.
I put an individual leaf into each writer’s hands and ask the writers to study and be ready to describe everything about the leaf.
Through that exercise the writers see that, when we walk up to the trees, we see something different. Those leaves that, together, give us such beauty are individually flawed. Each leaf, in so many ways, has its own unique appearance that gives each its own personality.
Each leaf has its own imperfect depth of splotchy colors. Every color on each leaf is a different hue than any others on its parent-tree.
Many of the individual leaves have holes shot through them, the result of a lifetime of challenges by wind, rain, hail and bugs. Some have bites gnawed from their edges; gashes ripped across them.
Looking up an individual leaf, we’re likely to see its many blemishes caused by its parent-tree’s touches of disease.
We see individual leaves of different shapes and sizes.
In each leaf, we see a living being that sprouted with spring’s hope to feed its society by drinking summer’s sunlight, inhaling so much carbon dioxide and exhaling cleansed oxygen. Together, the leaves have sustained us as we’ve sustained the leaves.
Each leaf is completing its life’s cycle, soon dropping to the soil to feed the land so the next generations can live.
Looking at all the leaves together and then as individuals has made a great impression on how I look at our countryside.
Like the leaves, our region’s people blend together well to make a wonderful picture. And like the leaves, our region’s people are individuals in their own rights, complete with all the scars and blemishes that life offers.
We can be so different from each other yet, in the big picture, we’re the same.
The picture can be a community made up of individuals – none of us, upon close inspection, perfect.
— Scott Schultz