Autumn face to face
Changing colours of late autumn red and gold rapidly replacing summer green
No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnal face.
I recall sitting indoors a few years ago watching an early autumn snow squall. They are typical of fall weather in our area of the Shield: warm days, cool days, clouds, brilliant sunshine, frosty nights, misty mornings and, yes, the reappearance of the stuff that caused dancing in the streets when it finally left last April. June through August usually prove to be our snowfree months if we count a few brief squalls as qualifying for a snow month. But this year we can definitely add September to the snow-free (and frostfree) list.
The autumn colours are rapidly replacing summer that is no longer slinking but rather running away, its tail between its legs. Yes, fall is definitely behind schedule if the season is to be defined as changes in colour. The shrubs in the understory are already red and gold but the trees above are a little more reluctant to lose their greenery. While some have surrendered to the inevitable, most have not.
Some of the members of the poplar family, the aspens, are already shedding their leaves without first having gone through the brilliant colour stage. Instead some of the leaves are turning brown on the trees and then falling. As with most deciduous trees, the wound caused by the breakaway of the leaf stem is healed with a waterproof corky layer of cells (officially called the abscission layer) while the leaf is still attached. When this layer is complete, the leaves by this time are starved for nutrients and die. Finally the seal is complete and the leaves fall. Without this seal, or scab, the tree would lose valuable moisture and nutrients.
Fall officially or astronomically begins on September 22nd or 23rd (this year it was the 22nd) when the sun’s direct rays fall on the equator i.e. not on an angle. When its direct rays fall on the Tropic of Capricorn in December – 81 days from the beginning of fall – we have the official beginning of winter. But on the Shield we know that fall begins in late August or early September, and certainly winter arrives much earlier than December 21st. With some luck our fall weather could last into November but too often we have been deluged with snow on or about Hallowe’en – causing our children to go trick or treating with their costumes covered by snowsuits – and have had to suffer with the white stuff until the following April. This makes winter a long and wearisome six months, one month longer than winter on the planet Mars. (Note: I apologize to the sled-heads, ski enthusiasts and other winter weather lovers.)
On the first day of fall we get as much sunlight (and solar heat) as we did in March when spring began. However, few people would want to trade the fine weather we had in September for the snow and ice of March. The reason for this difference in temperature is that the heat the earth holds from the past summer makes fall so pleasant. It will be a few months before sufficient heat is dissipated from our hemisphere to allow the really cold arctic chill of winter.
Many of us have succumbed to spring fever, but strangely enough the term ‘fall fever’ is never heard despite the fact it is the most favourite sea- son of a huge percentage of our population. Fall is not a time to laze around. Over the millennia our ancestors have been programmed to prepare for the drought (i.e. no usable water because it is frozen) and the famine that is to come. Like the red squirrel, the chipmunk and the beaver we must store more food to carry us through. Clothing manufacturers reap fortunes each year helping us to protect our naked bodies from the frigid onslaught. Black bears store their fuel in the form of yellow fat under their skin. We store our fuel in the woodpile or allow others such as the gas or electric companies to do it for us.
Astronomers tell us that the most important fact regarding the change in seasons – barring global warming – is twenty-three-and-a-half degrees. This is the measurement of the slant of the earth’s axis responsible for the changes in seasons as our planet circles the sun.
When we view the beauty of the boreal forest in all its splendour we have to agree with the poet who wrote: ‘No richer gift has autumn poured, From out her lavish horn.’
I am thrilled to live in an area where natural beautiful is so abundant and accessible. This photo was taken from the gazebo on the north shore of Rabbit Lake.