Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Down to brown

Something that surprises me every year, no matter how often I experience it, is the speed of the season change. You see and feel it coming . . . you watch for it, record the signs . . . but then overnight the switch occurs, and you’ve jumped from summer to fall. Or fall to winter and so forth, as the case may be.

It just happened this week, the flip from foliage to stick season. The foliage change came late this year, and peak was short. A few days of wind and rain finished it off, and the cold rolled in. But there’s a lingering blend of colors that belies the seeming onset of winter. Grass is still green -- bright emerald in some places -- while the fields have turned beige and mustard, and the late-dropping trees glow with every variation between gold and brown.

Beeches, oaks, and birches paint the landscape around the naked trunks of maple, ash, and others. At the tippy top of the canopy, vivid yellows, almost lemon, stand out like blonde afro hairdos above the russets, coppers, ochres, siennas, and terra-cottas of the mid-story hardwoods. The understory features maroons and clarets and burgundies of burning-bush and sumac. All these are set against the somber purples and grays of the hills patched with dark evergreens, interrupted in sharp slashes, like exclamation points, by the bright amber larches.

Such colors become almost neon on the gloomy days of hanging moisture, then gain a celestial dazzle when the sun breaks through in columnar beams. The nice thing is, even when the last of the yellow leaves finally fall and the grasses wither, the midstory browns hang on, often through spring. This gives the landscape color and texture even during winter’s starkest months.

It all happens in reverse at the other end of the calendar. Then the bleakness suddenly gets fuzzy with incipient color, and next thing you know, the world is green and vibrant again.

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