The Order Of Autumn – Part I
There’s such a thing as “leaf peeping”. The observation of the tree’s Autumnal colours on location. People take leaf peeping trips and go on leaf peeping holidays. I have definitely become a full-time leaf peeper, quite obsessively observing the very first changes of Fall.
The horse chestnut, as usual, started way ahead of everyone else, their large but delicate leaves turn rusty on the first cool morning at the end of Summer, their colouring is instantly recognisable, contrasted by the bright green casings of their conkers. Their leaves fall and disintegrate quickly, placing down the first layer in the order of Autumn.
The oaks and beech trees have started to turn gold, the Wiggly Oak started to turn especially early. its neighbour the black poplar is losing its leaves in droves, turning them a nice lemon yellow. The hazel leaves crisp around the edges as its young catkins are prepared, awaiting their extension much later in the winter. The Walnut trees are shedding their leaves whilst the last rays of Summer ripen their nuts. I had numerous conversations this year about whether the walnuts would ripen, well, they did, and they taste great!
The non-native maples are turning, the red maple in the Abbey is especially beautiful and the red oak and narrow-leaved ash in Morison’s car park are putting on some show. Many more besides are making changes, some subtle and some spectacular, all contributing to the unfolding artwork of Autumn in their own way…
Aside from the changes in foliage, the hedgerows are punctuated with reds, the berries of hawthorn, briony, rose hips and guelder rose and the bright pink and orange of spindle. One of my favourite things to find at this time of year are spindle berries. They are Autumn’s aliens, flower-like and appearing as if they belong in the midst of Spring or the height of Summer. Their four chambered casings turn from pastel to deep pink then pop open to reveal their tiny bright suns, four vivid orange berries that look like the eggs of something off-planet.
Whilst it seems like an ending, Autumn is also a time of great productivity, when the trees plan ahead, preparing next year’s buds and catkins that will sit on the branches until Spring. As their leaves fall they expose the remaining berries, nuts, and seeds, aiding in their gathering and consumption and the subsequent dispersal of their seeds, initiating the next generation.
Our native ash trees have started to drop early, most don’t change the colour of their leaves, flinging them off green or very slightly yellow at the first hint of cold. Their seeds are left hanging in brown bunches awaiting a whip of wind to unfasten and allow them to set sail for suitable soils. Ash is one of the first trees to drop its leaves in Autumn and one of the last trees to gain its leaves in Spring.
Our recent Monday morning tree walks have taken us to visit three white ash trees, native to North America, who live on a small mound behind the Rural Life Museum. For most of the year these three are unassuming trees, differentiated from our native ash in the size and shape of their leaflets, appearing in sevens, with a light underside. When Autumn arrives, these trees become almost unrecognisable, they blush pink, deep red, purple, orange, yellow, and every shade in between. Often, within one leaf, one can find a gradient all the way from gold to deep maroon.
Throughout the months of Fall, the trees decorate our tracks with all the colours of the sun, they soften our way into winter, placing down a carpet of colour that will dissolve to nourish the earth beneath. At the same time they are preparing buds and catkins, making the necessary preparations to get a head start when Spring arrives.
As many times as Autumn is repeated, it will never become boring, nor will the feeling of excited apprehension diminish. There is a child inside who doesn’t want to miss a second of his favourite show. This feeling of excitement in the observation of nature is maintained with the years and as the cycle repeats again it acts as a gauge against which to compare the changes in one’s perception.
In a recent article on a popular news blog, the writer likened Autumn’s change to “the leaves last screams, a tormenting alteration as the leaves die into winter”. I prefer to compare it to the harmonies of a heavenly choir, a slowly building climax, erupting in a leafy sea of fire.
As the Spring is a celebration of beginnings, Autumn is a parade of passing, it’s a slow graceful one, a final flourish at the end of the show, giving visual clout to the descent into darkness that began four months prior at the Summer Solstice.
The journey into Winter is far from dreary, nature is making a grand artwork in the outdoors, all we have to do is observe. The Order of Autumn will be continued next full moon as the order of Autumn advances.
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