Friday, September 30, 2022

Friday Ramble - Going for Gold

It's the reds that grab our attention in September and October. When maple trees in the Lanark highlands turn, its gorges, hills and quiet coves are ablaze with color. Other trees are dazzling in their own right, but their earthier hues are always upstaged by the riotous, cavorting red maples and their constant jostling for attention.

There is an elemental chemistry at work in the woods. In summer, the green pigment in leaves (chlorophyll) helps converts sunlight into energy in the elegant chemical process called photosynthesis. (That word comes from the Greek phōs meaning "light", and suntíthēmi meaning "putting together".)

Trees retain the carbon dioxide extracted during photosynthesis and use it to manufacture nourishment, together with water taken in through their roots. Oxygen extracted at the same time is released back into the earth's atmosphere for us to breathe. It's a wild and earthy magic of the very finest kind, trees and sentient beings all breathing in and out together and sharing the bounty of light. It always seems to me that trees are sentient beings too, not just woody things with leaves and branches and roots.

When autumn arrives, deciduous trees withdraw into themselves. Chlorophyll production slows down, allowing the anthocyanin and carotenoid pigments also in leaves to come into their own. Leaves high in anthocyanins and low in carotenoids turn scarlet, and those with high levels of both flavinoids flash bright orange. Leaves high in carotenoids and low in anthocyanins do a sky dance in honeyed golds and yellows. Absent both anthocyanins and carotenoids, tannins rule, giving us the burnished russets, ochres, umbers and bronzes of the great oaks, hickories and beeches.

Like most northerners, I have a passion for scarlet, claret and ruby in autumn, but it always seems to me that the golds, bronzes and russets of our other native tree species don't get the attention they so richly deserve. The oro (gold) on display here in late September and early October is anything but pallido (pale or light). It dazzles the eye; it sings and struts and dances; it kicks up its heels and sings. It rocks.

Poplars, ashes, elms and birches wear radiant saffron, and so do ginkgo trees in the village. Beech leaves are coppery coinage, and oak leaves turn an alluring rosy bronze. In Lanark, the aspens and tamaracks down by our beaver pond wear a delightful buttery gold. Nearby, late blooming goldenrod sways back and forth until it goes to seed and offers its fuzzy children to the wind. A few resolute yellow daisies and hawkweed bloom in protected nooks among the rocks. Everywhere, there is fine contrast from spruces, pines and cedars in the background, and blue-green evergreen fragrance fills the air.

And then there are the smaller entities on the forest floor. Eastern yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) glows like a hundred watt bulb, and one can spot it in autumn as at no other time of the year. From the shadows, the lovely but poisonous fungus dishes out its frothy incandescence like a halogen lamp set on high beam.

Here's to the glorious golds of the fall panoply. When the long white season arrives and snow covers the countryside, it is the golds that will turn up in my dreams. Long may they delight these old eyes in dazzling array.

No comments: