True colors

Tomorrow is Halloween, and the basket of candy is ready for trick-or-treaters. But for me, it’s eye candy time of year, when the leaves are irresistible.  Each seems more lovely than the last, and before I know it, my hands are full of them. My recess companions feed this compulsion, spotting and gathering the ones I’ve missed, generously offering them to me. How can you say no to these pinks?


Last April and May I was confounded by the autumn foliage of New Zealand.  It was certainly striking: rows of tall, golden Lombardy poplars, red dogwoods, orange sweet gum, and many other familiar tree species represented in the leaf pigment spectrum.  But somehow it felt wrong to celebrate these colors at that time of year, in a place where almost no deciduous plants had evolved, but had been imported to make European colonists feel at home: “acclimatized.” Certainly the trees are now themselves well naturalized in NZ, an accepted fixture of the landscape and ecosystems where they live (although I am still curious as to how oaks there get their acorns dispersed without squirrels, jays, and other co-evolved wildlife). Enough generations of Kiwis have experienced autumn colors that this is the new normal, and foliage-seekers flock to locations like Queenstown, where the crystal blue skies and water provide contrast to the changing leaves.


With October winding down here in the northern hemisphere, temperatures in Maryland are slowly edging toward freezing. I’m feeling a celebratory rush of delight in these leaves, the colors of home, that are beginning their deciduous journey into humus. My leaf press is almost full, but there may be room for just a few more…



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