These are the glorious autumn days of October, my birthday month. I grew up in Canada where the sugar maples put on a striking display of color as the leaves turn from green to exquisite shades of red, orange, and yellow, before floating to the ground as they surrender to the inevitability of numbing winter frosts. Ever wonder why? It's a collaborative expression of survival.
The components of trees work in synergy with the world — roots, trunk, branches, and leaves — each performing an essential role in assuring the well-being of the whole.
Leaves are culinary artists, nature's food chefs. Most of the year leaves house a pigment that's green, called chlorophyll. Hundreds of green leaves on every tree open to the sun, dependent on its energy to create food — a process called photosynthesis, which simply means, "Being put together with light." In the same way as chefs use a stove's heat to combine water and other ingredients to cook food, leaves use the sun's light to combine water, the minerals in it, and carbon dioxide to cook food. Here's their recipe:
Water absorbed by roots and delivered through the trunk and branches
Carbon dioxide absorbed from the air by leaves
Glucose distributed by the branches to feed all parts of the tree.
Glucose is a simple sugar, the food most easily metabolized by the cells of plants. During spring and summer, the ingredients needed to make it are abundant. There are long hours of sunlight, plenty of rainwater, and lots of carbon dioxide in the air.
As fall arrives, shorter days limit the sunlight so necessary for photosynthesis. The leaves can no longer make food. Cool temperatures inhibit the amount of chlorophyll produced, and as the green fades from the leaves, it reveals the yellow, orange, and red hues that have been covered by it.
It's not my intention to take the majesty out of autumn. Let's enjoy every minute of the vibrant foliage before the trees fall into dormancy — their well-deserved rest during the very cold, very dark days of winter. Yet it seems important to acknowledge the uniqueness of each component in this autumn dance at the same time as we honor the whole. The poet, John Squadra, says it this way: "There is nothing ordinary under the sun. All is sacred. All is one."
Sources: treescharlotte.org, northernwoodlands.org, treepeople.org, Heron Dance.