10 October 2013

Thoughts on Autumn

The View from my Window

Fall came suddenly this year in the Pacific Northwest.  We were enjoying summer one day and the next day the skies opened and the water poured down.  It rained hard for a week and a half.  The trees, with their full complement of leaves, were heaving in the wind.  Branches broke, power lines snapped, and gutters overflowed in every neighborhood.

Some deciduous trees change color and drop their leaves in response to temperature, others in response to day length.  Two weeks into October, the temperatures are dropping, the days are growing shorter and the leaves are changing in every neighborhood.

From my office window the view is dense with foliage.  Against the dark green of Douglas firs, the native alders turn a rusty yellow.  They are not showy trees.  Another native, the Big Leaf maples are slightly lighter in hue but again, they don’t wear their colors like a debutante wears a gown.  More pale still are the cottonwoods, and while they aren’t bright with color, they are bright with movement.  Their leaves flicker in the wind and catch the eye.

Because I live in the city, there are many non-native trees in the landscape.  From my window is a luminous yellow tree which glows like a round torch when the sun strikes it.  Even on a dark and cloudy day it shines in bright contrast to the somber natives.  My eyes are drawn to it again and again during its brief time of seasonal glory.

There are reds and russets of maples and oaks and more yellows and oranges of elms and ash.  The purple-leaved ornamental plums turn a burnished bronze as the temperature dips.  The sweet gums and dogwoods, the tulip trees and liquidambars all blaze as their chlorophyll breaks down and the trees store up energy for the winter.

Soon, the deciduous trees will be bare but our hills never are.  The evergreens are as thick as a winter pelt.  Douglas firs tower over the landscape whether in town or in the country.  There are cedars and spruce and pine on every hill.  As the deciduous trees fade into the background, the conifers make up for their absence.  The variety in shades of green is astounding.  Some so dark and deep that they nearly look black and others almost a yellowy green that reminds us spring will come again.

But today, the view at work is dominated by that glowing ball of bright yellow.  This tree will hold its leaves for another week or so and the parade of colorful trees will march in time for a little longer.  After that, rain-soaked woods and a palette of gray and green will be the view from my window.