My friend Pam Smyth made a poignant post to Facebook last week. Along with a photo of some of the beautiful Coatesville fields and woodlands near her home, she wrote,
“I used to find autumn beautiful, but bittersweet and sad. Now I view the seasons as part of a grand design. Gardening makes one an optimist, trusting that the flora you plant will indeed emerge in the spring. I love the change in my horizons as the leaves slowly drop in the woods. I go from being nestled in a cocoon of green, to seeing fields, sky, sunrises, and sunsets through the lovely silhouettes of the trees.”
The line, “I love the change in my horizons as the leaves slowly drop in the woods,” resonated particularly with me, but in a slightly different way. In my area I’m noticing the acres of tawny-colored “field corn” left standing to dry before harvesting. The massed rows of stalks are a stark contrast to the still mostly-green tree leaves. And I’m waiting for a sudden change.
Each summer the fields gradually grow up until the corn is so tall it blocks the views I enjoy in winter and spring. The change happens gradually, of course. And the green, growing stalks blend in with the trees and grass. I hardly notice.
The falling of the leaves from the trees Smyth describes is also a slow change; it’s a gradual opening up of views again. But with the cornfields the change will come in just a day, as farmers drive their corn harvesters through the rows. Down will come the dry stalks, with their dry ears of dry kernels. All of a sudden familiar but hidden vistas will come into view again.
A slow change in the landscape or a sudden one — these are changes we’re accustomed to. But right now something unexpected is happening. Another friend shared a photo with me on Facebook along with a comment: “Freaky forsythia at it again — hashtag ‘climate change’.” The photo showed forsythia — an early spring-flowering shrub — covered with blossoms.
My reply: “Yes! It’s crazy! I drove past what looked like an apple or cherry tree yesterday — it had flowers on it!”
Ana’s response: “Yes, a friend of mine has apple blossoms.” Others continued the commentary, pointing out summertime flowers blooming among fall chrysanthemums and displays of pumpkins and cornstalks.
A few days later, I noticed that a neighbor’s forsythia was also in bloom. Is it spring already? The calendar and the actual feel of the season are out of synch with each other. I’m imagining that this is what Christmas in Florida is like.
Finally, what’s happening with leaf color this fall? The leaves on a few trees are turning yellow, and there are plenty of dry, brown leaves falling, but I’m not seeing any red or orange. And most everything is still green.
I went online to refresh my memory on what triggers the change in leaf color in the fall. I wanted to know if the extended warm weather is the cause. On the website of the USDA Forest Service I found my answer. (https://www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/pubs/leaves/leaves.shtm)
The main trigger is dwindling daylight hours. This transition obviously is the same every year. Temperature and moisture, though, are the main influences on “the amount and brilliance of the colors” autumn to autumn. A stretch of warm, sunny days and cool nights creates the most spectacular displays.
Dry summer conditions (we haven’t had much rain for a long time) and a warm period during fall will also lower the intensity of fall colors. Hopefully the change in the weather just this week will inspire the leaves to produce the colors we look forward to before all the leaves have come down!
Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” And check out Pam’s new book for children and families: Big Life Lessons from Nature’s Little Secrets. Available at amazon.com.