The Falling Leaves Project

|   Botanik, Ökologie, Landschaft

Laura Liska

«To be able to perceive how with the yellowing of the leaves there is a descent of the springing and sprouting life, but how the sensible becomes yellow in order that the spiritual can live in the yellowing as such – to be able to perceive how in the falling of the leaves the ascent of the spirit takes place, how the spiritual is the counter-manifestation of the fading sense-perceptible; this should – as a perceptive feeling for the spirit – ensoul the human beings in autumn!» – Rudolf Steiner

Out of the delight one experiences when encountering the ephemeral colors of nature – be they in rainbows or sunsets or leaves – a sense of wonder can emerge: why do we perceive these particular colors? What are these colors doing with us? Is nature engaging us in a sort of unconscious meditation using the language of color and form? 

The dramatic change in color of autumn leaves offers an intriguing subject for researching these questions. That these colors arise during the «death» (and «rebirth» ) of the plant kingdom seems significant and indicative of greater mysteries within the cycle of the year. Our capacity to come to a deeper understanding of the seasons seems, in turn, significant for the landscape itself and the human beings tending it.


How does the human eye participate in the perception of changing color? How, exactly, is light changing through the seasons? What are the perceptible rhythms in the corresponding color changes? What are the conditions under which living color arises? What occurs in substances within the leaves as they respond to shifting light?

Out of the color work of Goethe – particularly in optics, which he so thoroughly and eloquently elaborated in his Theory of Color – deeper questions arise. How can seasonal colors be approached in the context of Goethe’s «sensory moral» colors? Considering Rudolf Steiner indications for the cycle of the year, can an anthroposophic perspective offer deeper understanding: what is the relationship of the human soul and spirit to the seasons of the year mediated by the sense experience of color?

The Project

The Goethean scientific method is exquisitely appropriate for exploring these questions because it connects scientific inquiry with spiritual inquiry; the phenomena in nature with the human soul and spirit. The first year of this project focuses on familiarization with rhythms and processes of seasonal color in a local landscape through observation and documentation around the Goetheanum, in the surrounding Dornach landscape and in the valley of Lauterbrunnen. In addition, the relationship of light and darkness to living color will be explored in the chemical nature of plant pigments, and the camera will provide a means of investigating the workings of the human eye.

This and subsequent research will consider how the process of color change in the landscape is related to Goethe’s Theory of Color, Rudolf Steiner’s indications for the cycle of the seasons, and current scientific research in fields such as phenology, climate change, and biodynamic agricultu

«To feel the supreme and moving beauty of the spectacle to which Nature invites her ephemeral guests! ... that is what I call prayer.» – Claude Debussy