Glancing at leaves
By Tom Poland
This time of year I catch myself glancing at leaves. On walks through woods and bike rides along trails, I see the occasional red leaf. I glance again and see a few more leaves turning crimson. Soon red outnumbers green. Autumn’s nigh.
I’ve talked to people who live in regions where autumn is a tad bland. They miss a lot. Here in Georgialina, we’re blessed to live where four seasons bring differing versions of beauty. Come March I find myself in peach orchards where daybreak reveals clouds of pink and coral blossoms. I walk over peppermint petals, as if kaleidoscopes of pink butterflies touched down to rest. Come May-June it’s uplifting to see the rocky shoals spider lilies. The delicate flowers bring ballerinas to mind amid a concert of river song. It’s a performance upon a watery stage you’ll not forget.
Summer’s tulips, roses, foxglove, and emerald mint leaves serve up a good tonic, and winter’s cold flowers—camellias—dazzle us, though most have little to no fragrance. Fall, though, that’s when we realize just how much grandeur we miss owing to the million of pines that have displaced maples, oaks, and hickories. Pines, green year-round, are a non-event come fall, but what if each needle assumed a different hue than its neighbors? What a spectacle that would be. Thank you hardwoods for the colors you share.
I have my favorite signs that fall is coming. Wild grapes begin to drop along the trails. Sulphur butterflies cross highways as they migrate south toward that state named for the “land of flowers.” For me, these yellow beauties signify the coming of fall as surely as the reddening of maple leaves, as surely as purple muscadines and gold, brown-flecked scuppernongs. And here and there flower gardens and fields of sunflowers languish in decline. Spent sunflowers, like old women wearing dirty yellow bonnets, bow in deference to passersby.
I know summer’s in retreat as temperatures drop and fall’s palette of red, orange, and gold banishes summer green. Autumn foliage ushers in a pilgrimage to the mountains that captivates pleasure-seekers. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t love fall’s cavalcade of colors. Predicted with accuracy or not, fall’s arrival kicks off leaf-lover season. Colors pull hard at foliage worshipers and all highways lead to the mountains. Without doubt, fall colors are one of Earth’s better performances. There’s music in the mountains and no resisting the trees’ siren song.
But even in the flatlands we find color. I love an early morning drive along rivers and over lakes where fog mutes colors, giving the land an impressionistic air. Down Lowcountry way another unsung beauty blesses autumn. Marshes turn golden and when you lay all that blue creek-laced gold beneath an indigo sky you get a Lowcountry like no other. Deep-blue skies. They give us an indigo dome of splendor.
As fall falls away, here’s another unsung beauty. Frost. Across your windshield its feathery crystals etch intricate designs, upon leaves it lays down a glaze like rime, and like the thinnest layer of snow it turns rooftops into wintry slopes. Vanishes as soon as the sun strikes it.
Autumn memories … I remember a trip to the mountains with my parents. At an overlook we beheld a smoky blue land drenched in fall color. The sun glinted off a river and far away a lake looked like a shiny dime. Later clouds set in as we had a breakfast of ham, grits, and pancake as snow began to fall. Mom and dad are gone now, but what a memory that morning gave me up in Virginia.
I must go, but before I do, I can’t overlook the Coastal Plain. I love to see colonies of pitcher plants, Saracenia flava, in their autumn palette. But this time of year it’s tree leaves that I glance at. “Tell me leaves, what might I expect from all of you this fall? Will you burst into flames or come on slowly, then brown, and return to the earth? Give us a show, please. Rain down your autumn splendor.”