Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2001

Reading tree leaves gives warning

Foliage display asks us to enjoy season

October 18, 2001

Last Thursday, I was enjoying a stroll near Darrel Zimmerman's barn, dividing my attention between a stand a timber to the west and 100-foot lines of freshly picked pumpkins lining the hillside to the east. Just as I was thinking orange was the color of the season, a monarch butterfly confirmed my thought by fluttering across my path.

At that moment at least, orange was the dominant color, but it shares the seasonal honors with its two neighbors on the color wheel, yellow and red. Together, the three hues of fall are the colors of caution from the wake-up call of yellow (yield ahead) to the full alert of red. They are the colors of traffic signals, school buses, hunting vests, brake lights and other signs alerting us to be wary.

It is known that warm colors predominate over cool colors. Put a patch of red next to one of blue, and it will appear the red patch is closer.

It's an accident of perception. But, it is logical to assume our perceptions are a product of our experiences, both as an individual and a species.

What warning are the transitional colors trying to give us? Is it the old message the grasshopper failed to obey?

Historically, that may have been the case. Fall warned us to get to work. It was time to harvest the crops, collect the fruits of the growing season and hunt down the game animals fattened for their struggle against the coming winter.

For most of us, those days are over. As long as canned food remains on supermarket shelves, our lifestyle isn't going to change during the cold months ahead.

Still, the foliage delivers a warning every October as nature puts a whole summer's growth into a display that even overstimulated, hurried and jaded moderns can't ignore.

I like to think it's just our biological core shouting at us to enjoy ourselves before the curtain falls on the all-too-brief display.

The landscape changes in summer and winter too, but the day-to-day changes are more subtle. The green of June ripens to the earth tones of August and September as each year's summer takes on its character.

The explosion of color in the fall is different.

We know we have to enjoy it because it won't be around long. In a matter of days, the foliage will lose its brilliance, and soon after that, the dulled leaves will carpet the ground beneath our feet.

So the leaves shout to us, "Get outside. Take a walk. Take a drive. Look." Nature cooperates by providing some of the most enchanting weather of the year.

I say comply with nature's warning. Enjoy the sights of fall. This year more than most, it's a free diversion we deserve.

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