As W. B. Yeats put it, “Beauty like a bended bow.” In the poem as I recall it, he was referring to Helen of Troy whose face launched a thousand ships. Men sent to battle to get her back or keep her captive. That is what autumn is to me. It is a dangerous beauty.
Like us, autumn won’t last long. If only we can make a spectacular exit as autumn does each year.
The birches and aspen were gorgeous, particularly set off against a beautiful blue sky. What goes together better than bright yellow and brilliant blue? Not much.
When Chris and I were in Arizona 2 years ago we heard a series of lectures at Arizona State University by a professor from Oxford, Jonathan Bate, on the subject of “How the Humanities can save the world.” I found them fascinating and have meant to blog about those lectures. Must do that soon.One day Bate discussed a little known poet by the name of John Clare who Bate says is the most important poet of nature in the UK. Even though he is not well know.
John Clare was an English poet and the son of a farm labourer, who became known for his celebrations of the English countryside and his deep sadness at its disruption. Like me, he hated to see the commons desecrated. He hated to see the ecosystems of flowers and community disturbed.
Clare was not very well known or respected until the 20th century when many started to realize that he was one of the most important poets of the 19th century. Perhaps poets like Clare can help the Humanities save the planet.
He can do that because he points, however vaguely to a new attitude to nature. I have blogged a little bit about that but again must do more. I must return to this subject as soon as I can relegate politics to the backhouse where it belongs
One of Clare’s poems which Bate talked about was “Autumn” in which Clare describes the changing of the seasons:
Thy pencil dashing its excess of shades,
Improvident of waste, till every bough
Burns with thy mellow touch
I love that idea. Autumn leaves evince the disorderly divine. Perhaps what we need to save the planet is the disorderly divine. Perhaps that is what the Humanities can give to us. That’s a lot.
This was a magnificent autumn day at Buffalo Point. It was Thanksgiving Weekend and we had a lot to be thankful for. We got together with our two sons Nick and Pat who live in Manitoba and one daughter in law, Debbi, and 2 grandchildren, Nolan and Stella. They were all healthy and fully employed.
We interpreted Manitoba laws to allow a small gathering. We figured 7 was small, but had tinges of guilt and fear. Just a little.
The blue skies were extravagant and the yellows were sharp. In Manitoba we had few reds. That is a pity, but the colours were still sensational. I went walk to take photos of the autumn leaves.
Astonishingly when I went for a walk I strolled toward the golf course to admire autumn leaves in brilliant foliage. Much to my surprise I met some of my old golfing buddies who I used to golf with regularly before I became a recovering golfer.
Can you imagine that they would waste the time golfing on such a beautiful day? It seems absurd but it was true. What cretans. I must search for a better class of friends. Some who might appreciate truth and beauty.
My mother used to always quote to me a passage from the Bible. “This is the day the lord has made.” She wanted us to read it at her funeral. And we did. This was such a day.
Autumn is my favourite time of the year to travel. It might even be my favourite time of the year.
This year I sadly confess I nearly missed it . As a nearly retired guy who works only a little bit, this should not have happened. I let one file of mine interfere with my nice quiet life. My grand daughter Nasya was right when she told me, “Opa you suck at retirement.” Harsh words but children tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it.
Maple leaves are the prize of autumn. We don’t really have them in Manitoba other than a few scattered spots. That is a dreadful pity. I know a stop just across the border in Ontario where I try to go at least once each autumn. This year it was very disappointing. Most of the regular spots were barren of maple leaves. I don’t know if I was too later or too early or it was just not a good year.
I did find a couple of trees but most in some places I deemed not very photographic. At least I could not capture them there. So I concentrated on finding them on the ground or rock instead. As some sage said, when the world gives you lemons make lemonade.
I always associate autumn with the last part of life. Maybe that is why I appreciate it even more now. The end of life; I am there now. The spectacular beauty; I am not there. Sad.
I believe maple leaves are the prize of autumn. I did not find many, but I did find beauty. It was worth the trip.
The colors and autumn foliage right outside of North Bay were astounding. Unfortunately, there was a lot of road construction in the area and we could not stop the car. This was a pity and to some extent haunted me for the rest of the trip. Next time…
I did have a chance to stop at the Serpent Riverfor to take some photographs. It was a lovely stop with a bunch of maple trees and a path that led under the bridge over the river to the north side where the river sped rapidly by a gorgeous red maple I could not miss photographing. I also photographed a number of individual leaves with my close-up lens.
The process of changing colors is fascinating. A green leaf is green because it contains a pigment known as chlorophyll. During the growing season chlorophyll is abundant in the cells of the leaf and as a result of that the green colors of the leaf dominate even though there are other colors present in the leaf. The green masks the other colors and as a result leaves of trees in summer are usually green.
Chlorophyll is very important in plants. It captures rays of the sun and uses the resulting energy to produce food for the plant. The plant eats the light and then uses the energy to manufacture the food that it needs from water and carbon dioxide. The sugars that are produced are the basis for the plant’s nourishment which is the sole source of the carbohydrates that the plant needs for growth and development.
The food manufacturing process of plants “use up’ the Chlorophyll. In other words it is broken down in the process. During the growing season the plant replenishes chlorophyll and as a result the leaves stay green for the summer.
In the autumn when the daylight hours are reduced and temperatures cool and rays of the sun are lower and the chlorophyll degrades the pigments that were hidden by the green, such as yellow and orange pigments are revealed. These pigments are found in the carotenoids that are present in leaves the whole year round, but their orange-yellow colors are usually masked by green chlorophyll. In the fall the chlorophyll is replaced at a slower rate than it is used up and the supply of chlorophyll is gradually dwindling as a result and the masking effect fades away uncovering the glorious colors of autumn that slowly start to show through. As a result we see yellow, orange, brown and many hues between. These pigments are actually present during the summer it is just that we can’t see them. I love how these colours are slowly revealed. I particularly love the transitional changes from green to orange or yellow.
The red pigments on the other hand are different. These are synthesized again once about half of the chlorophyll has been degraded. The reds, the purples, and their blended combinations that decorate autumn foliage especially in eastern North America come from another group of pigments in the cells called anthocyaninsthat are not present in the leaf throughout the growing season, but are actively produced only towards the end of summer. The process here is gradual as well showing the brilliant reds and purples.
In most temperate regions anthocyanins are present in only about 10% of the trees, but in some areas like New England they can be found in up to 70% of the trees. These colors appear vividly in the autumn eastern forests particularly trees such as maples, oaks, dogwoods, cherry trees and persimmons. These pigments can combine with the carotenoids’ colors to create the sensational orange, fiery reds, and burning bronzes typical of many hardwood species.
Together these processes produce the magic of autumn. They lead me to produce impressionistic images of autumn leaves, like the one below.
For quite a while I have suspected that climate change is altering the timing of the change of colors in autumn. Recent studies have shown that this might be true. Experiments have shown that poplar trees have stayed greener longer with higher levels of CO2 even if temperatures remain the same.
Everyone should experience the magic of autumn in the Eastern deciduous forests of North America. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world. The incredible variety of colors of the changing leaves is astonishing. That variety is produced by the great variety of trees in the east. In the west we are much more accustomed to the boreal forest where the trees are mainly coniferous and do not change color or shed. There are also much less varieties of trees.
Whenever I see the impossible beauty of autumn, I think of that French existentialist thinker, Albert Camus, said, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” That is probably why autumn is my favorite season. Until recently I was always a little leery of autumn. I think it was because I knew what came next–winter. I never wanted to think about that. I dreaded winter. In the last few years we have largely escaped winter by travelling to the southwestern United States where winter is much more tolerable. Again, this year I am looking forward to the dead of winter to escape it. In the meantime I want very much to enjoy autumn. On this trip we certainly did that.