Autumn; The Season of Color

Maple Leaves

I prefer to use the word “autumn” instead of “fall” to describe the season between summer and winter. That may be because several years ago, I took a “fall” off the roof of my house and sustained some pretty serious injuries. So for me, the word fall has a negative connotation, while autumn seems a perfect word to describe the beautiful season that it is – the season of color.

Since I retired, autumn has become one of my favorite seasons. It’s not just because I enjoy ribbing my yet-to-retire colleagues who are back in the classroom while I’m out hiking and kayaking; it’s because the mornings are cool and crisp, and it is so quiet on the lake. The jet skis and cigar boats of summer are gone, and right after Labor Day I imagine hearing the autumn breeze saying to me, “It’s your lake now. Enjoy the peace and quiet until next summer.”

If the summer months were hot and dry, the colors of autumn can be less than spectacular. However, most years, the season of color starts in September when abandoned farm fields are transformed with the yellow, purple and red of goldenrod, aster and sumac.

When I was very young, my grandfather told me that Jack Frost was responsible for painting the leaves. In truth, if we had a hard frost too early, many leaves fall before they turn color. What actually happens is that during the summer, the yellow pigments that exist in the interior cells of leaves are veiled by a deep green pigment. By the end of September, the flow of sap decreases, causing the latent yellow to dominate the fading green pigments. A combination of bright sun and sugar in the sap, in turn, produces rich red coloring, which explains why sugar maples display such vibrant reds. What follows is a breathtaking display of color that attracts “leaf lookers” to the Finger Lakes to take in the splendor that is October.

By November, after multiple frosts and a few windy days, the landscape changes color again almost overnight. Those who make their living from the land have harvested their grapes, apples, and corn. Farmlands that were rich with color in summer are now muted shades of brown.

Declining temperatures and decreasing daylight triggers a multitude if changes in the daily life of wildlife. Nearly half of our summer songbirds migrate south, and squirrels and chipmunks feast on acorns to build layers of fat in preparation for the harsh season that is to come. Whitetail bucks have long since shed the velvet from their antlers and are now busy using those hardened antlers to rub the bark off saplings. It is just one of their many rituals to establish a territory for breeding season.

To some, November is a drab time of year, but I consider the often misty, foggy, muted days of November very pleasant and tranquil. It’s a time for walking in the woods and cutting and splitting firewood, so I too can be ready for the season that is to come.

by Bill Banaszewski
Bill Banaszewski is a photographer and owner of Finger Lakes Images, specializing in pictures of the outdoors.

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