This painting shows the sunlight disappearing behind a grove of young aspen trees. We seem to be standing at the edge of the forest but looking out from the inside, through the trees to a clearing. Then, there is more forest on the other side of the open space. It is 1897 and Levitan is not well. Perhaps he feels he in between here and there. Even the title of the painting: The Last Rays of Sun, suggests he is aware this may be the last active summer of his life. He died in 1900, a few days before his 40th birthday.
Levitan's love for the forest is so profound, he has even taken care in depicting the forest floor where some low growing plants are blooming. The cluster of trees on the left reflects the light of a setting sun.
One kind of aspen is called populus tremula - trembling. In the fall when the leaves begin to dry out, the tree trembles with the wind. The legends about why this happens are unhelpful. One story says the aspen trembles because it was used to fashion the cross of Jesus. Dozens of trees claim that distinction.
Another story says the aspen shakes as a condemnation for its pride in not bowing down to Jesus as he passed by. Taking one of nature's most beautiful moments and turning it into a story about sin? Nah! I'd say rather: how about God being God - the divine imagination, creatively, generously giving us reason for delight each year.
I caught this, one sunny, autumn afternoon: the wind blowing through the top of a very tall and solitary aspen tree. The stop-in your-tracks sound of the leaves rustling was magic, and for minutes, the whole tree quivering, hundreds, maybe thousands of long-stemmed leaves, flashing like bits of silver foil!