Fall, the season, is all about transition and gradual change — from the long, hot summer days to dark and frigid winter. Eleven years ago my parents moved to Singapore from the Northeast, USA, and spent most of the year on the hot and humid tropical island. My dad would come back to visit Pennsylvania twice a year; once in July and once in December. For him, fall and spring, the transitional seasons, disappeared. He’d fly away in August from weather not unlike Singapore’s climate, and return when everything was covered with ice. He’s since moved home and is about to experience his first fall season in eleven years.
Fall colors comes from trees adapting. Just like bears consume many thousand calories a day to prepare their bodies to hibernate, trees notice when days are getting shorter and cooler and they make adjustments, the most noticeable being deciduous trees that loose their leaves. These trees start making changes by pulling back parts of the chlorophyll out of their leaves, the green pigments in their cells that make food, and hold onto them in their growing tips for the spring. The red, yellow and orange colors are always present in the leaves but are hidden by the green pigments. When the green disappears, the other colors are put on display.
As the season continues and the trees know they must go dormant to survive the winter, they release a hormone that encourages the leaves to fall. Ideally the leaves will land at the base of the tree to offer its own roots insulation and nutrients when the leaves decompose. Re-using some of the mineral nutrients from the last year’s leaves the tree will have what it needs to grow new leaves and make more food in the spring.
You don’t need to know what’s happening in nature to appreciate it’s beauty. If you do know the adaptations that trees need to go through to survive you may be impressed or even inspired. Trees have many methods to support and preserve themselves and they are able to handle very harsh changes. Change does not need to happen all at once, in fact, it rarely does. A natural process takes the time it needs to take, and whatever is going through that change often has the strength it needs to survive and the resources to bounce back and grow stronger.
Of course many places around the world never experience autumn like we do in the Northeast, with its dramatic color and changes. Some people may choose to travel to the Northeast, USA to see how the weather transition creates the most beautiful fall colors. Seeing them for the first time must be extraordinary. For my dad, I don’t think he knew how much he appreciated the season until he didn’t have it. Now, after a decade of missing the transitions, he can’t wait to re-experience the beauty and wonder of fall.