Trees and People, Showing Our True Colors

When autumn sparks into transient brilliance, it’s easy to imagine the trees are putting on a short, colorful show before winter puts them to (temporary) death. Yellows, oranges, and reds take over where green had ruled. A hillside becomes a community of color, each tree distinct, when only weeks ago their greens had blended into a soft, eye-soothing sameness.


Autumn mountain leaves, Western North Carolina

Green: A definition for ‘leaf’


Crayons in shades of leaf green fill every box of Crayola.

Most of us define leaves with the word “green.” We have a whole collection of color names related to green leaves: spring green, forest green, leaf green.






I can’t even imagine what would happen if we tried naming colors from the autumn spectrum. There would be Locust (yellow) and Sumac (red).

But how in the world would we create a color for “Sugar Maple,” whose each autumn leaf combines a brilliant splendor of shadings from green to orange to red.

Green: The color of growth, not leaves

As often as we describe leaves as “green,” green isn’t the “real” color of a leaf at all. Green coloration is just a side effect of photosynthesis, the process that generates energy for the tree’s growth and oxygen for our breath. The summer green is an overlay that transforms, for most species, the yellows and reds of early spring leaves. As the season of growth winds down, so does photosynthesis. And then, instead of being painted over with green, trees shine with the luminous leaf colors thar are most truly their own.

So I find myself thinking about our lives, about our productive seasons and our seasons of transition and rest. Maybe it is right that during the years when we must focus most on what we produce — our families, our careers, our homes, our service to others — we also find it most difficult to distinguish ourselves. Perhaps these are our green years, where we best expect to be part of a forest, almost indistinguishable from our peers.

And then come times when we are preparing for less active seasons. Maybe those are the years for showing the colors that are truest to ourselves.

The greening of our young adults

Maybe we’ve been getting it backwards, as we encourage young adults to seek their identity and the specific purpose God has designed them individually to accomplish.

Perhaps youth is precisely the time when we grow green and, to all appearances, more like others than not. Perhaps it’s not until we near the time of dormancy, after our green years have fed and fueled our growth, that we are intended to let the green and productive self fade away so out individual colors can show.

I’m sure I’m among those who have been living backwards! Mine is, above all, a generation of individualists. We’ve driven towards, and fueled a drive in others to chase, “a ministry of my own” instead of simply ministering and encouraging others to serve in the places where God has set us.

I hope that in this last quarter century of my life I am helpful in the places where I am found. Although the green of high-intensity production seems to be dropping away bit by bit, I hope this last 25 years is still a time of productive service to God and God’s people.

And who knows … maybe during this last quarter I’ll prove out in still another color of “maple” — the one that’s strong and sturdy enough to build warm and welcoming homes and furniture.







About Carlene Hill Byron

The former editor of New England Church Life and The New England Christian, Carlene Hill Byron is enjoying being home in Maine after 20 years in North Carolina. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Find her at, and on Facebook at MyHouseHasHistory.
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