Celebrating October

A crisp breeze hit me as the garage door raised this morning. The smell of fall is in the air and the rustle of falling leaves beckons me out into the sunshine.

If I had unlimited funds, I’d spend the whole month of October driving the backroads and soaking in the beauty of autumn stopping where ever I wanted to take a few photographs along the way. Some of my happiest childhood memories are based in autumn sights, sounds and smells.

I’ve already had my first caramel apple. For me, this signals the beginning of fall. I love bonfires and hot chocolate, showers of falling leaves, and children laughing in the sunshine. Fall temperatures are perfect for my taste with sweatshirts, jeans, and hiking boots perfect for a day outdoors.

Sometimes I wonder what trees will look like in heaven. If there is no death there, then even the trees won’t die. But perhaps they will be colored in a bright array of what we see in the fall all year long. It is unimaginable for our limited human experience to visualize what heaven will hold.

There are people who say they don’t like fall because it represents things passing away and winter coming on. To me it symbolizes letting go of this life in a blaze of glory, only to be resurrected again in the spring.

Autumn is a season of festivals, homecomings, out of state visitors and friends getting together to enjoy the natural beauty of the season. As hordes crowd into the Smokies for a glimpse of fall foliage, I am content with the surrounding region we live in. Does it get any more beautiful than this?

Part of the reason we have such incredible color in the fall, during a good year, is because our forests are considered temperate rainforests. Our region marks the furthest reaching fingers of the last ice age. Seeds and trees from the hardwood forests of the north met the softwood forests of the south. So we get the benefit of all of it combined together. We live in a unique forest found in few other places on the planet. Ours is a mixed mesophytic temperate deciduous forest region.

Temperate deciduous forest simply means that we have trees that lose their leaves in the fall. This type of forest is found in most of the eastern part of the United States. We get between 30 to 60 inches of rain per year spread out over four distinct seasons. The most common type of tree in a temperate deciduous forest are broad leaved trees that shed their leaves in the fall, such as oak and maple. We also have evergreens mingled among our forest such as pine and hemlock.

The USDA Forest service explains the change in leaf color like this: For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that happen to trees and shrubs in the autumn. Although we don’t know all the details, we do know enough to explain the basics and help you to enjoy more fully Nature’s multicolored autumn farewell. Three factors influence autumn leaf color-leaf pigments, length of night, and weather, but not quite in the way we think. The timing of color change and leaf fall are primarily regulated by the calendar, that is, the increasing length of night. None of the other environmental influences-temperature, rainfall, food supply, and so on-are as unvarying as the steadily increasing length of night during autumn. As days grow shorter, and nights grow longer and cooler, biochemical processes in the leaf begin to paint the landscape with nature’s autumn palette.

We live in the perfect region for watching the miracles of nature unfold during the month of October. Although it seems to me the changes are slow coming this year, I am enjoying the colors as they appear.

Reach Judith Victoria Hensley at judith99@bellsouth.net or on Facebook. Check out her blog: One Step Beyond the Door.