First Frost

Rev. J. Vance Eastridge, 1998

Pale blue smoke curled out of the chimney and drifted lazily into the air. Nostrils dilated to inhale drunkenly of the burning-wood smell that asserted nature's changing-of-the-guard, - for, last night, there fell the first frost of the season.

When I stepped outside at dawn it was still dark. Overhead, all was black in the absence of a moon, but the sky was resplendent with stars winking as if they were guarding secrets.. Following many days of unseasonably warm weather, the air was chilling.

As I drove away on an errand, the sun began to stir and stretch to full stature over the eastern mountain. In its rising it flung golden lances into the frost-filled air. What had been hidden by darkness was now taking shape. The fields that slowly rolled by looked like jeweler's velvets upon which were spread myriads of blazing crystals. It was as though God had crushed the stars in his hands and let them filter between his fingers to settle quietly upon the land. Leaves, dangling from tree branches were edged with frosted cut-glass. Flowers wore capes of transparent ermine. The world dazzled with spectral autumn colors and late blooming flowers imprisoned in thousand-faceted kaleidoscopes. It was the kind of beauty that can be experienced only once a year: the afternight of a first frost.

Later, I walked in my garden. The sun, now high in the sky, had swept its arc of warmth, and all the crystal magic evaporated. In its aftermath, shriveled flowers lay sprawled upon the ground. Pert, colorful faces of the day before hung limp and lifeless.

A garden so recently colorful like an artist's palette heaped with roses, geraniums and impatiens was now spotted with only the hardier blooms. Their time will come later. It was all brought about in the course of a night when frost fell.

Frost upon the land exaggerated its form and beauty for a moment. But, even as it came, it knew its purveyor of enhanced beauty sheathed daggers of destruction. Unabashedly, it came as a deceitful friend.

It brought with it a moral. Oftentimes, when life is at its best, there come promises of enhancement that are no more than a sorcerer's spell. The Greek poet, Homer, told of seamen who sailed near the island of the sirens whose beautiful songs lured them to their death on the craggy shore. Life is purest and at its finest when we live in harmony with God's revelations and purposes. Too often evil, disguised as enchantment, intrudes with false promises.

Jealousy robs us of satisfaction by illuminating the possessions and accomplishments of others. Envy poisons our personalities by making us discontent. Bigotry promises to make us superior by belittling the worth of others. Prejudice closes our eyes to truth by erecting false screens between us and the objects of our prejudice. Purveyors of theatrical entertainment spotlight immoral situations and circumstances as being superior to those conditioned by moral values, with vices hyped and consequences ignored. We are made discontent by looking over fences onto greener fields fertilized by imaginations. We are urged to run after excesses, learning too late that joy and fulfillment diminish as volume increases. A garden or roses is best enjoyed by looking at only rosebud at a time. The more we try to stockpile for ourselves, the less satisfaction it brings. The greatest joy comes from getting something we need as opposed to something we merely want. Short cuts are reached for in an attempt to gain immediate gratification, ignoring the fact that in most instances, the journey is more exciting and fulfilling than is the destination.

One of the earliest tales of childhood depicts a wolf gaining entrance into a sheepfold by 'wearing sheep's clothing.' Destructive forces rarely confront us with their true natures of ugliness and evil. That is reserved for Halloween. Instead, the most corrosive influences are often disguised with the greatest attractiveness. In nearby 'Christus Gardens,' a diorama portraying the life of Jesus, the scene where Jesus is left in the wilderness with the tempter, the tempter is portrayed as the comeliest and most desirable of persons. In the story of Eden and mankind's fall from grace, the writer of Genesis describes the serpent as the most cunning creature that God had created. One Biblical scholar suggests that the serpent appeared to Eve as a most trustworthy and beautiful creature, becoming loathsome only after her eyes were opened to distinguish good from evil.

Life is full of false promises and deceitful tactics. Once the tempter's spells have been cast and his intrigues woven, his victims lured and snared, then the sun rises. The aftermath is disenchantment and ruin. The most promising and enviable of persons can become frost-bitten by the charm of sin, and like beautiful flowers, wilt.

In the aftermath of spiritual frost, life becomes barren.