We did a bit of landscaping this spring, with the help of a professional, and I’m loving the result. Coral bells have been blooming and miniature hydrangea bushes are just finishing their show. And the sedum is spreading like wildfire.

“Fall is for roots, spring is for shoots.”

With the advent of Autumn and the cooler months of October and November ahead of us, I’m thinking about putting down some roots: flowering trees, hydrangeas, hostas, peonies, spring bulbs. My sister-in-law, wife of a farmer, dropped this idiom into a conversation recently and it’s really got me thinking. Not just about the literal roots I want to put in the ground this fall, but personal “roots” I might sink down for sustenance in the next season of life. I’m long past the season for “shoots” but I have plenty of time to cultivate roots that will bear fruit, that will weather any storms that might come and help me remain relevant as I step (gracefully, I hope) into the season ahead.

Roots we might cultivate in the autumn of our lives include family traditions, rich friendships, personal legacy in the form of reflective journals and art, deep reading on subjects that intrigue us. At a time when we might begin to think we’ve learned all we need to know in this world, could we not invest our time in expanding the breadth of our knowledge and seeking fresh perspectives? Acquiring untested skills and expanding expertise in skills we’ve long employed?

For myself, I’m dipping into a course on fiction, planning to expand my writing skills to master a genre I set aside when I stopped filling spiral-bound notebooks with childhood stories. If not “master”, at least explore.

On the Brink of Everything

I’ve been spending time in the company of a very wise fellow these past several weeks. Parker J. Palmer, an author, teacher and activist, has published 10 books in his 80 years. I’m currently reading his latest, On the Brink of Everything. In it, Palmer encourages his readers to cultivate a “beginners’ mind.”

Clinging to what you already know is the path to an unlived life. So cultivate a beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling, again and again — then get up to learn again and again. That’s the path to a life lived large in the service of love, truth and justice.

~Palmer

Another nugget of Parker wisdom is borrowed from Socrates: live an “examined life.”

When you acknowledge and embrace all that you are, you give yourself a gift that will benefit the rest of us as well

~Palmer

Acknowledging that he’s at the age where most folks think about unloading material goods they’ve collected, he applies the same attitude to some long-held convictions and asks instead “What do I want to let go of and what do I want to give myself to?”

Food for thought.

The nugget I’m holding up to the light and giving close examination in this season of sinking down roots is this: “One advantage of age is the chance it gives us to learn and relearn until we truly know.”

It’s never too late to put down roots cultivated by all we’re continuing to learn from life, just to see what they’ll produce

Note: Researchers from Amsterdam’s Vincent Van Gogh Museum believe Van Gogh’s painting “Tree Roots” (above) was his last work, completed as late as the morning before his death from suicide.