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"... turns the leaves to flame"

Environment, Perceptions

Note Personally, I'm sick of politics. I'm tired of liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, left and right and all that noise. "'Tis a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing." Not that politics and government are irrelevent or insignificant, just that all the lurid rhetoric, insults, screaming and assorted invective constitutes zero communication and a dearth of benefit. Nothing is as it seems and folks spend monumental emotional resources on pointless verbal clashes without a jottle of intelligent discourse. So, I'm taking a vacation. Y'all, if you're so inclined, can have at it to your heart's content. Me, I'm going to expend my feeble efforts on what are to me more pleasant and/or interesting subjects.

Now to the subject of this post. The title comes from an old ballad (I mean, really old) called "September Song." The full line is, "When the Autumn weather turns the leaves to flame, one hasn't got time for the waiting game." It was composed in 1938 by Kurt Weill and recorded by Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat "King" Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaugh, Jo Stafford and others. I have a 78 RPM vinyl of the Jo Stafford version. However, this is not about the music but about the phenomenon of Autumn colors, most of which, except for a few stubborn Maples, are now on the ground and the trees bare.

I recently wrote a generally misunderstood (That seems to be happening alot lately) post on the gift of beauty and color in Nature. This is in the same vein and will probably also be digressed to death in comment. However, never let it be said that I shrink from controversy.

I think any of you dear readers who took the time to look and see will agree that this was a particularly colorful Autumn with respect to tree colors. One of the true blessings of living in the north temperate zone is our annual display of vivid shades of gold, copper and red. Nature prepares us and her trees for the harshness of winter by entertaining and delighting us with her prolific paintbrush while at the same time protecting them from the elements. Few of us think of how this all comes about even though it is as wonderful a process as its colorful result. (The photos in this post were all taken in my immediate neighborhood in Wales.) 

September Song has another line: "The days grow short, when we reach September." This shortening of daylight is what is thought to trigger the changes that result in Fall colors. During the Summer, the green pigment chlorophyll dominates, masking any other foliage color. Chlorophyll is essential for the complex process of photosynthesis by which sunlight is captured to energize the manufacture of the plant's basic  food, simple sugars produced from water and carbon dioxide. Sugars are the source of nourishment for trees and other plants. (Actually, the same is true for fauna, including us.)

In the late days of Summer, trees begin to pull nutrients back from the leaves and branches into the trunk and roots. A layer of cork-like cells forms at the base of the leaves and gradually chokes off nutrients. The leaves stop producing chlorophyll and photosynthesis stops. As the chlorophyll breaks down, the green color fades and other colors that were always there burst forth. The brilliant colors are formed by pigments--anthocyanin and carotenes--produced by sugars trapped in the leaves. This is why Sugar Maples seem to produce the most vivid colors. The amount of sugar in the leaves and the resulting color intensity is a function of how well the tree was nourished by water and sun in Summer.

I always have to ask "why?" things happen as they do. The leaves falling, baring the branches, is easily understood. If leaves remained, severe Winter storms and heavy snows would damage and likely kill the tree. But the reason for the colors is less obvious. In fact, there is no plausible reason, other than happenstance, for this riot of Fall colors. Except perhaps to delight the human eye and buck us up for the coming drear of Winter.

Other elements of nature--animals and perhaps some plants--color for a reason, but the brilliant and varied tree colors have no discernible purpose. Except one.

I hope you enjoyed this year's exceptional Fall colors, one of Creation's true gifts to us mortals. I know I did.

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