Posted by: atowhee | October 26, 2007

Leaves are leaving once again

The leaves on some deciduous trees began to shade away from their summer green in early October.  Many trees around Ashland were planted by folks anticipating this show of autumn color: reds, crimson, pinks, yellows and gold of many kinds, orange occasionally and very often a mix of several shades not found in any Crayon box. Rain knocked down some leaves from maples, alder, cottonwood, Oregon ash, gum and other soft-leaved trees.  Yet the native broadleaf maple still shows its sunny face along the mountainsides up to about 4000 feet.  Dogwoods, both native and Japanese are various shades of red. The Pacific madrone keeps its dark green, high gloss leaves, but its orange berries are boldly visible, drawing Cedar Waxwings from across the valley.  There are two oaks here: California black oak and Oregon white oak [Quercus garryana].  The black oak is now showing yellow leaves with black splotches of decay.  The oaks cling to their leaves longer than most other deciduous trees.  The oak’s always my favorite tree wherever we go.  Whether the heat-sturdy cork oaks in Morocco, Portugal and Spain,  live oaks lining the cliff faces in Italy or Greece, the wide-topped English oaks found in Victorian-era cemeteries across London.  The oak is a tree that persists.  And its wood is hard, its leaves tough, its branches welcoming to small critters.   Thye acorn can be afoodof last resort for many.  My son the archaeo-botanist tells me many cutlures once used acorns for food, until they became “too civilized” in their own eyes for such mean fare.

The old folk song “North-Country Maid” applies hereabouts:
“Oh,the oak and the ash and the bonny rowan tree
They flourish and bloom in my North Country”
Except the rowan trees were all brought here from Europe but the oak and the smaller ash trees are largely native to this place.

We were en route to a nursery to check out the trees for sale.  Our drive along the eastern side of Bear Creek Valley this week took us through miles of pear orchard.  Those trees are now dark red on their crests, the color slowly dropping down until it will finally reach the lowest level of green leaves.  In straight rows, recent like flaming candles, there are windbreaks of Lombardy poplars.  They are now a rich yellow, that same color you find on the tail-tips of the Waxwings.

As you walk any sidewalk or trail about Ashland now the leaves dominate our view.  Watch a tree for just moments and you are certain to see a leaf drop free and float to earth or into the creek below.  The path of a falling leaf is combination open-armed dive and careless drift.  Too light of weight to fall directly, the leaf will catch any air movement, the tiniest current and even sometimes flip over in an invisible waft overhead.  It is stunning how profligate Nature can be with her production.  Leaes that are the basis of most organic energy, from today’s running sap to eons-ancient layers of coal.  Leaves that help give life to all green things above ground, that perform a necessary part of that miracle of turning air, water and sunlight into sugar and spice. Leaves that are so crucial to all living land creatures, then cast aside. They tell the story of each growing season here in temperate climates.  That alone is enough to delineate temperate and tropical, whereleaves need never fall.

Here in this lattitude on the globe, far from the Equator, leaves tell us much. Ever-recurring but ephemeral in the finite life of any single leaf. Nature’s emphemera: haiku, broadsides, handbills, lyrics, entire novella, meaningless rock lyrics–all flung about without concern for beauty, or regard for tomorrow.  This 14-inch wide broadleaf maple leaf could be a Tostoi novel. Here a bug removed one small bite, there one point is shriven, there a corner has already turned black on a bold background of golden yellow.  This tiny oval red leaf from a honeysuckle vine, its veins strongly etched in darker red, is but a haiku.  “I was, I am still, and soon will be other.”

 Perhaps all this foliagte color is Nature’s last briliant fling of the year.  My wife refers to the many colored leaves in rustling windrows, pushed by breezes into the gutters and ditches, piled gently against any wall or foundation, these she says are confetti.  So maybe that;s what;s going onb, a party we cannot comprehend nor see.  But we can watch the confetti thrown about by the celebrants at a last colorful wake for the warm season.

Each leaf is its own statement with history and context and meaning, though not always clear to watchers like us. Walking through drifts of leaves many layers thick, in size from a dime to a pizza pan, these leaves could be an entire country’s populations.  Many races, colors, creeds and occupations. Then deemed caput, as is eventually the case with us all. Autumn is surely the time of year in this climate when you must think of death. Unlike spring Nature in the autumn is not building, she is finished, she is shutting down, she is going into hibernation, she is harvesting and preserving what is essential.  Leaves were the essence of tree life all spring and summer.  Now they are perfunctorily dismissed.  Ozymandias coul dhave learned a thing lor two if he’d kept his eyes open. Nature can be profloigate but also is heartless with any creature or part of creation not useful right now. Nature is the first and ultimate relativist, one you are important, then again you are gone. Truth in the outdoors changes with the season.

One thing baffles me and I must ponder it further.  That is the Ponderosa and its brethren, the evergeens.  They do go dormant in winter, more or less.  Byt they stand, for centuries in some cases, and they weather the weather.  And show little outward signs of change in the seasons.  I suspect we are just too coarse in our observing to note the subtle changes.  And onthe inside much changes with each passing month.  And here the dominant creatures are the Ponderosa, fire resistant, living centuries, towering over all others, even the Douglas-fir.

Up in the woods where the manzanitas are the predominant undergrowth, I notice the shrivelled but living upper portions of the ground cone flower [Boschniakia strobilacea].  It does resemble some kind of pine cone standing upright on its larger end.  Actually it’s a cousin of mistletoe and a root parasite of the manzanita bush.  Mistletoe itself is also prevalent wherever there are numerous oaks.  The whizened, drought-hardened white oaks around Emigrant Lake where neither weather nor soil seem accommodating are especially prone to the parasite.

The final butterfly sighting of the season may have been a California sister, its bright orange wing spots singalling in the birght October sunlight.  It was October 24th.


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