Autumn of Life

Photo courtesy of the Late Joe Forma photo collection.

  • The best part of your life can be found when the trees change color to paint a most colorful and new perspective.
A blue sky through Autumn colors. Photo courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

By Larry Whiteley

Autumn has always been my favorite season. There is something about its waning days of light and warmth. Colorful trees paint the landscape. A plethora of hunting seasons are underway. Fish feed aggressively. They are preparing for the cold days ahead. Sitting around a campfire looking at a dark night sky filled with millions of stars is magical. The smell of wood smoke from campfires and chimneys drifts through the air.

Geese fly overhead as they head south in their V-formation. They honk reassurance to one another. Squirrels rattle through dried leaves as they dig to bury acorns. The hike up a long, winding hill is worth it when you reach the top and look out over the patchwork quilt of colors that spread out before you. All too soon, the light will be gone. Days will become short. Nights will be long.

Autumn has a deeper meaning for me this year. I recognize my own life is in its autumn years. I am happy to have made it this far. To be right where I am. During my working years, I was paid to communicate the outdoors through written and spoken word. I am blessed to continue that into my years of retirement. My English teacher in high school would not believe one of her worst and shyest students had spent most of their life doing what I had done. I give all the glory to God for giving me the gifts to do that.

I have many good memories of the autumn seasons outdoors with kids, grandkids, and friends. I think about them often when I am outdoors, alone with my thoughts. I also think about our 49-year-old son battling cancer in the summer of his life. He has remained positive through his battle. He says to others, whatever they face in life, “Take it one day at a time and put it in God’s hands.”

Flowering dogwood tree in Autumn. Photo courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

No matter how old one is, we are always at the edge of the unknown. There is no certainty in life. Growing older gives one a perspective on life we did not have during the earlier parts of our journey. Life becomes more precious when there is much less left of it. The road ahead is far shorter than the road already traveled. Sometimes, I think about my finish line, the end of my story. I do not know how it all turns out. I know I have a lot of living left to do, even if it is only one more day.

I plan to savor however much time I have left, being in God’s great outdoors as much as possible. Getting a big buck is no longer important. Being out there and watching the sun rise over a frosted field is. So is watching a bobcat sneaking through the woods, hearing crows talking to each other up and down the valley, and all the other animals going about their daily lives.

Fishing trips mean more to me now. It is about something other than how many fish I can catch. It is about an eagle perched on a limb high in a tree. Otters playing on the bank. A beautiful sunset shining in the water. A rainbow after a rain. A dad teaching his kids to fish.

I cannot hike nearly as far or as long as I used to. Things I see along the way seem more special now. They are, to me, an addition to my memory bank of life. Each step takes me closer to the end of the trail. The journey will have been worth it, just like in life.

The Beauty of Autumn Sassafras. Photo courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

When I go camping, the sound of crickets, frogs, and owls is music to my ears. The dancing flames of my campfire are more soothing than ever. When I look up through a star-filled sky toward heaven, I wonder what it will be like when the good Lord calls me home.

Every day matters during this season of life. None of us knows how or when our time on earth will end. When my time comes, I hope it happens while I am in the outdoors that I love instead of a hospital bed.

I have told my wife and kids that I want some of my ashes scattered near the cabin we once owned in a beautiful valley. I also want some scattered near my favorite treestand and some near the creek where memories were made with grandkids. Some of my ashes are to be at Sac River Cowboy Church. A dogwood tree is to be planted over them. God used the gifts He gave me there, too, and my life was changed for the better.

We all know someone who left home one day and never came back. They were not planning for it to be their last day. Winter arrived without warning. The finish line was there. The seasons of our lives do not always pay attention to or go by the calendar. One could be in autumn or winter and not even know it. Why not live each day as if it is your last?

The earlier seasons of life are all about making it in the world. For most of the years preceding autumn, we are gaining knowledge and experience, building a career, establishing a reputation, working hard to earn money, and providing a living for ourselves and family. It seems life is all about achieving, accomplishing, accumulating or surviving.

The autumn colors of the oak tree. Larry Whiteley photo

Our focus changes as the autumn of our life approaches. Our tasks become more inward-oriented. Much of our traditional part of life begins to fade as we enter retirement. We begin to slow down. Our goal now is self-renewal. I could spend my time regretting things I have done and mistakes I have made. I choose instead to be grateful for the forgiveness God has given me. Autumn is a time to change our life.

It is time to look ahead and recognize that your finish line is approaching. Then, choose who you want to be and how you want to live out the remaining years of your life. You will not have control over everything that happens. So what? Face it, and then choose to be someone better.

Miracles happen when we step up to the life we have right here in the muck and the mire of this world and discover we are far more creative and capable than we ever dreamed. Miracles happen when we find that we are far more than who we ever thought we were or were taught to be. Miracles occur when we have the courage to choose to be someone we never thought we could be.

The autumn of life brings us into the evening, where life becomes quieter. It is a season for the soul. We discover a kind of beauty that is only available at this stage of life. We gain new wisdom. We learn to appreciate everything more. We become creative in ways we never thought were possible in our younger years. We become artists, writers and poets. We give back to others. Sometimes, we find God was there all along. We become lovers of life with less time left.

The best part of your life can be found in the autumn of life.