November 3, 2011

My Favorite Time of Year!!!

Schricker,-Mary-Dec2010By Mary Schricker

“There is a harmony in autumn, a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!”
Percy Bysshe Shelley

Autumn, coming on the heels of summer’s frenzied schedule, brings a kind of peacefulness to our lives. It’s a time when our thoughts change from baseball games and barbecues to rustling leaves and bonfires. It is nature’s last hurrah before the white blanket of snow quiets the earth. I feel different in the autumn months; more contemplative and soulful. It is without a doubt, my favorite time of year.

This October, we embarked on what has now become our annual fall leaf trip. We have decided that one of our responsibilities as retired persons is to make sure the leaves are turning properly. I have in past years viewed fall’s spectacular show in the Eastern United States, driving north from Boston to New Hampshire, in the West along the Oregon coast, and last year in Door County Wisconsin. The vibrant color and beauty of the leaves this year heading north through Wisconsin to the Apostle Islands rivaled any I have ever seen. Maybe beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, and now that I have more time, I am in a mindset to stop and see all of the beauty I can. As we oohed and ahhed over nature’s brilliant show, we struggled to remember those early elementary science lessons, and our conversation turned to what made the color of the leaves so different from region to region, and year to year. Of course, we had a rudimentary knowledge of the causes and effects, but we definitely needed a refresher course. Thanks to the wonderful world of technology, we immediately had our answer!

Why Are Fall Leaf Colors Different Every Year?

Why is it that some years the fall colors seem more brilliant? What determines the color of an autumn leaf? Every fall, tourists, and those lucky enough to live in northern temperate climates, look forward to the brilliant color show promised before the deciduous trees (those that drop their leaves annually) close shop for winter. Deciduous leaves change color due to decreasing day length and falling temperatures. But the specific autumn temperatures and the amount of cloud cover can make a big difference in a tree’s fall colors from year to year.

When a tree begins its preparations for dormancy, chlorophyll, the green sunlight capturing pigment that gives leaves their summer color, begins to break down. But chlorophyll is not the only pigment that a plant has at its disposal. There are also other colored pigments present, but they are masked by the intense green of chlorophyll.

These other pigments include carotenoids and anthocyanins. Carotinids create the bright yellows and oranges that we see in some fruits and vegetables. Anthocyanins impart a red color to plants, such as that seen in cranberries, red peppers, cherries, strawberries and the leaves of red maples.

When the autumn days are sunny and cool, but nighttime temperatures do not freeze, these conditions foster a color show with more red pigments. This happens because the cool nighttime temperatures prevent the glucose (a sugar that feeds the plant) from flowing down from the leaves through the branches and trunk to be stored. Anthocyanin pigments come to the rescue to help the tree recover these nutrients before the leaves fall off, and in the process, make the leaves appear more red in color.

The yellow, gold and orange colors in leaves, created by carotenoid pigment, remain fairly constant and do not change in response to weather conditions. So, these fall colors don’t vary as much from year to year.

The amount of rain in a growing season can affect the autumn leaf colors, and severe droughts can delay the arrival of the fall color show for weeks. Warm, wet autumns tend to lower the intensity of fall colors. And severe frost will kill the leaves, causing the leaves to turn brown and drop. The best autumn colors result from weather patterns such as:

• a spring that was warm and wet
• a summer that was not too hot or dry
• a fall that had a series of warm sunny days and chilly (but not freezing) nights

After several hundred miles of driving, we arrived at the shores of Lake Superior. The contrast of the sparkling blue waters against the brilliant palette of golds and reds was truly breathtaking. We spent the bulk of our time in Bayfield, a quaint Wisconsin town known for it fresh fish, apple orchards and active lifestyle. Our plan to take our bikes on the Ferry to Madeline Island was thwarted by a slight mist and cool temperatures. Instead, we ferried to the island and drove the 22- mile length of the island in our jeep. Our first stop was at the Madeline Island Museum, where we learned much about the early inhabitants, the Ojibwa Indians. The walls of the museum read like chapters of our history books. The recognizable names of early explorers reminded us of a time when much of North America belonged to these Native Americans.

The Island is a mecca for hikers, even for amateurs like us, so we tried our hand hiking a short distance through the Madeline Island state Park. A refreshing beverage and a brief visit to a few art galleries concluded our day before ferrying back to the mainland. The three-hour narrated tour of the remaining Apostle Islands filled the next afternoon. After a few days of exploring the area and dining on such culinary delights as fresh lake trout and fried fish livers, we packed up and started our trek home. Our conversation turned to where we would venture next autumn, to once again make sure the leaves were turning properly! Yes, autumn is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year!!!
Mary Schricker

Mary Schricker, a former educator and Seniors Real Estate Specialist, is the author of two books,
“The West End Kid” & “A Labor of Love.”