Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tree Hugging in Autumn

God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, "Ah!" 
Joseph Campbell

Fifty years ago my parents bought a piece of property about 3 hours north of Toronto in an area called Muskoka. The closest town is Huntsville and we are not far from Algonquin Park where the Group of Seven painted the images so often used (abused?) on souvenirs. We spent our summers up north in a log inn they restored, two months of long-lighted days with nothing but time to think and explore. The cottage was a large part of what made me who I am today.

As blissful as the summers were, it was the fall that was the true delight. When the fates are kind we get a long string of perfect days the last week of September - a little crisp, high autumnal blue skies, no wind. The leaves are changing and there is no where you can look without seeing colour and light. The colour is good every year, you can count on it, we are known for it. But this year, this year is exceptional.
My husband took these amazing photos over the weekend. Each one is stunning. Glory in the colour and the magic. You'll find even more in an album on my Facebook page. If you want to know the science behind the magic, read the paragraph from a wonderful book about trees written by a British author, Roger Deakin.

The tree senses a particular moment when the balance between day and night has altered. It appears to measure the hours and minutes with some precision, and shorter days trigger the development of a suicidal hormone in each leaf. It creeps down the leaf stem to the joint with the woody twig, where it stimulates the growth of a sphincter of brittle, hard tissue that gradually closes on itself, cutting off the supply of sap. Thus deprived of water, the chlorophyll in the leaf disintegrates. Chlorophyll makes leaves look green by absorbing the blue-and-red light of the sun and masking other pigments. As it breaks down, the leaf reveals the colours of its other underlying chemical constituents. Then it dries still more, the stem joint snaps, and it goes floating off to the woodland floor to settle in pools of yellow, orange or soft chestnut-browns...The leaves of different species contain distinctive pigments: the yellow carotenoids of willow, poplar or hazel; the red anthocyanins of maple or dogwood (the same pigment you encounter on the rosy side of the apple where it faces the sun); or the earthy tannins of oak leaves. The evaporation of the sap concentrates the leaf pigments so that they show up more vividly. the questing roots of one species will take up more molecules of phosphorus, magnesium, sodium or iron than another. The sap of one will be more acidic or alkaline or contain ore tannin, than another. This is the natural chemistry that paints the woodland colours...The process leading to leaf-fall is not affected by Indian summers or unusually cold weather. Photo-periodism is strictly abut light and darkness, and the shortening of days.

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin (ISBN 978-0-141-01001-4)

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