“O SUNS and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;”
“October’s Bright Blue Weather” ˜~ Helen Hunt Jackson
Every October, New England turns into a series of calendar pictures. Across each pond, down every hill, around the next turn, and nearly everywhere you look, you see gorgeous vistas of leaves changing color against a blue sky.
You don’t have to drive up to quaint Vermont or rocky New Hampshire to view “the color;’ you can see it in your town, in your backyard, in the town center. It blankets the hills, fills the valleys, and covers the cemeteries.
The Color Emerges
Brilliant red, gold, orange and yellow emerge from summer green, catching the sunlight and transmuting it into a mosaic of glowing tiles that Gustav Klimt would have envied. The leaves burn with a febrile need to stay aloft and perform their chemical function. Quivering in the breeze, they cling to the branches even as the chlorophyll drains from their cells and their grip loosens.
The annual alchemy that turns plain green into a palette of precious colors never ceases to amaze. An ordinary tree becomes a golden torch. Plain shrubs change into brilliant red. Your daily commute takes you from one calendar page to another.
The Blue, Blue October Sky
All this happens against a backdrop of breathtaking blue. On the best October days, a cloudless sky takes on the saturated blue found in Medieval paintings and illustrations. Those artists got that effect by grinding lapis lazuli into their oils. The October sky does it all by itself when a fall cold front clears away summer humidity.
Against that cerulean background, the trees glow especially bright. We see the contrast with amazement, as if we have stumbled into a master’s studio and glimpsed how he or she turns blank canvas into a glorious work of art.
NOTE: None of these pictures shows the gorgeous light and the vividness of the colors. They just don’t translate into print.
The October Cemetery
For some reason, the trees always seem brightest in the old cemeteries where ancient trees raise their branches over marble stones. I don’t know the reason for this; it’s a mystery.
It can’t be the variety of tree. I have seen cemeteries planted with sugar maples, oaks, and swamp maples. They all turn gold. Can it be the chemistry of the soil that creates this color? Or is that just Halloween thinking?
Seriously, though, when you see a patch of bright yellow and gold, chances are pretty good that, when you get closer, you will find a burying ground.
The Line Storm
Sometime, probably in November, a big storm will sweep through New England and draw the final line between spectacular autumn and bleak winter. The wind will blow, the rain will fall and, when it’s all over, the trees will stand stripped of their foliage. For the next five months or so, we will see dull gray.
That is, unless snow highlights the branches with white. Then we get calendar-page views of a different kind, along with Christmas card vistas.
The Sugar Maple and Me
You know those tests you take sometimes where they ask what kind of animal you would choose to be? Or vegetable? Or tree?
If I were to choose what kind of tree to be, I would be a sugar maple (acer saccharum). Think of what a sugar maple gives us:
- Sweet sap for syrup in spring
- Dense shade to cool us in summer
- Brilliant foliage in fall
- Interesting shapes and bark patterns in winter
The older a sugar maple gets, the more its branches twist and turn. The bark on its trunk wrinkles and curves, opening here into an interesting space and swelling there around the cicatrice of a missing branch. I like that idea of growing more interesting with age. I think there’s something to be said for showing on your skin the impact of growth, development, loss, and the passing of time.
Winter is Coming
Winter is coming. Right now, though, we glory in the flaming leaves of October, made all the more precious because we know that, in only a few weeks, we’ll be looking at forests of uniform gray.
Go outside, drink it all in. Take pictures and post them so others can see the beauty. Look up at the saturated blue sky. Think about how glorious this world is, because we don’t have another one.