My least favourite time of the year is fast approaching. November. Actually from now until it snows and everything looks pretty again. At least until the snow turns grey and slushy. Dirty looking. And then that’s a whole other kind of ugly.
The signs and signals are there. Trees are really starting to lose their leaves; and whereas in the summer branches are almost totally hidden by foliage, now it’s the opposite. Now it’s the branches we can see clearly, while the leaves that are left are just sprinkled here and there. Drifting to the ground, as we watch. Some in slow motion. Others, in the blink of an eye. Floating. Fluttering. Twisting. Turning. Twirling. Being carried by the wind. Lifted. Lowered. Landing. Somewhere. And on an on it goes, until none are left.
Small trees are already completely bare.
And just the other day I noticed that most roads, sidewalks and lawns are already covered with leaves. On rainy days, like yesterday, they’re hazardous, because they become very slippery when they’re wet. Any day now, they’ll be stuck to the windshields of cars that are left outside over night. And again, when they’re wet, they’re hell to get off the glass.
Why is it that they always stick to the windshield wipers? They hide in that little groove where the wipers stay, until you use them. Sometimes you can’t see them there. And then, there they are, as soon as you turn them on. Back and forth. Back and forth. Rubbing against the window. Breaking up into smaller pieces. Literally glued to the wipers.
Every year I try to convince myself that even bare, the trees are beautiful. I try to convince myself that only when they’re bare, can we fully appreciate how graceful and fluid they are. Like dancers, with their arms out-stretched. Like nature’s sculptures. Gnarled and twisted shapes. Sometimes almost eery silhouettes. Skeletons.
They can be beautiful. And interesting. More interesting, perhaps, then when everything’s in full bloom. But there is also a sense of loss. Of shutting down. They look cold. Stark. Dark. Harsh. Moody. And even somber.
But in reality, what’s happening isn’t bad. It’s good. According to wiseGEEK, this process that trees go through conserves energy over the winter, and prevents damage to the trees. In fact, losing their leaves protects trees, because the cold dry winds strips the moisture from them, through the leaves. Without leaves, they can keep their moisture in the trunks and branches, rather than drying out and dying. They also go into a state of dormancy, sort of like bears who hibernate during winter, and this reduces the amount of energy they need to stay alive.
To be very technical about it, trees lose their leaves once the chemicals they secrete have effectively cut the leaves off from the parent branch. These chemicals, primarily ethylene and abscisic acid, make the leaves fall by severing the link between the leaf and the tree. The leaves fall to the ground, providing a layer of protective mulch to insulate the roots.
So while this time of year makes me feel depleted, while to me the landscape becomes empty and barren and unappealing, what’s happening is positive. It is nature’s way of ensuring that those trees will be back, healthy and beautiful, in Spring. They’re just getting a well-deserved rest.
They’re beginning to look better to me, already.