Au­tumn face to face

Chang­ing colours of late au­tumn red and gold rapidly re­plac­ing sum­mer green

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - NATURE - PHIL BURKE

No spring, nor sum­mer beauty hath such grace

As I have seen in one Au­tum­nal face.

John Donne

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.’

PHIL BURKE/ NAT­U­RAL AC­QUAIN­TANCES

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.

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