Autumn Leaves

Hi Folks:

September now and next Tuesday the kids head back to school…  The days are getting shorter and the leaves on the trees are changing colour too.

Anyway, there’s been some stir online in the past few days about Dr. Stephen Hawking‘s new book where he suggests that ‘God’ is not necessary to create the universe.  I have a lot of respect for Dr. Hawking and he’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but it got me thinking about the following story.  Now, I must point out that I first heard this story a long time ago, and everytime I tell the story it gets changed a bit, but the storyline remains the same.  I’m also not the original author of this story and don’t know who is, but whomever it is, I’d like to thank him or her for it!


A group of schoolkids was wondering one day why all of the leaves change colour and fall off the trees in the autumn.  One of them had an old Indian grandfather, so they went to ask him.

“It was not always so…” He began.  “Many long time ago, when the earth was first created, this did not happen.  In the autumn, before the snows came, all of the mammals would grow a thick coat of fur, the birds would fly south or fluff themselves up, the turtles and lizards and frogs would burrow into the mud at the bottom of the ponds, and everyone was cared for except for the insects, the little people who live on the forest floor.  In the wintertime it would get very cold and they would all freeze and die.  Now the little people have a lot of important jobs – they pollinate the flowers, they take care of dead things, the provide food for other animals, and much more.  The other animals could see that this Way was not right, so one day they held a council and decided to take their complaints to the Creator of All Things.  The Creator listened to their arguments and found they had reason, so it was decided on that day that in the autumn, before the snows came, the leaves would all turn the colours of fire – red and orange and yellow – and the wind would collect all of the leaves in a basket and then lay them out on the forest floor like a blanket.  This warm blanket would cover and protect the little people of the forest through the coldness of the winter.”

Well, the schoolkids thought this was a great story, so the next day they went and told their science teacher. Now the science teacher, being a man of science, looked down at them and said, “Well, that’s a very nice story, but that’s not what really happens.” He began to explain to them about the shutdown of chlorophyll production in the leaves in the fall, how the lack of chlrophyll highlighted the carotenoids and other isomeric hydrocarbons that were always present in the leaves, and how the stems on the trees would isolate the leaf petioles at the bud scars…   The kids went away enlightened, but a little disheartened.

Now the teacher, being a man of science, decided that he should take it upon himself to go and straighten out the old Indian grandfather as well. Having made an appointment to go and see him, when the teacher arrived he started with, “I understand you’ve been telling the children some fine stories, but I thought I’d come and tell you about what really goes on.” Having begun, he wound through the same speech about chlorophyll and isomeric hydrocarbons and bud scars and all that he had given to the children.

The old man listened very intently to all that the teacher had to say, and when the younger man was finished the old grandfather’s eyes were as big as saucers. The teacher wasn’t sure what reaction he might receive, and so he asked, “So, you’re not angry that I’ve come to explain this to you?”

“No!  Not at all!”, exclaimed the grandfather.  “You know, I had no idea that the Creator of All Things would go to so much trouble just to protect the little people that live on the forest floor.  Thank you so much for coming!”

Author Unknown

7 Replies to “Autumn Leaves”

  1. pwr

    I'm really a fan of Ken Wilber and his dynamic way of looking at knowledge. In this story you have the "pre-rational" and the "rational" approach to the phenomenon of Fall, and even a hint of the "post rational" approach. It goes to show you haw the same information can be interpreted in different ways, and while some ways may be more inclusive than others, it's dangerous to say that some are "better" than others.

    1. wolfnowl Post author

      Hi Peter, and thanks for dropping by our little corner of the web! What I love about this story is partly that different perspectives exist, but moreover that such different perspectives need not be mutually exclusive. When we cling to an idea simply because we've been taught that this is the way things are or must be, then we close ourselves off to seeing new possibilities. This holds true whether we're discussing science, religion, medicine, spirituality or anything else, and is one of the basic ideas behind the perception wheel. Marcia covered this really well in her page on 'The Symbol Makers':


  2. Alice

    Mike, I love this and thank you so much. What insight the Indian grandfather had. It further reaffirms to me, with such a simple and beautiful story,
    that scientific thought and the Creator represent the same.


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