This time of year our inside window sills clutter up with tree leaves that Carol and I have found in our grove while walking to and from the barn and which are so pretty we just have to save them. At first we try to outdo each other in finding the brightest yellow-red-orange-gold maple leaf with still a little green in it. As the season advances, our choices become more eclectic, perhaps more abstract, favoring leaves with more somber purples and olive greens, or even with brooding browns and blacks along the veins or margin edges. Some of these are downright ugly in a way. My interest in human art paintings has followed a similar course over the years, going from bright and garish in the days of youth to earth tones in old age. In fact, walking to the barn in the fall becomes sort of like visiting an art gallery. Only the paintings in the woods are almost infinite in number, cater to every taste, and are free for the picking.
Now in mid-November, with all the bright and beautiful leaves faded away, I find myself admiring foliage rarely given much attention in fall coloring exhibitions. Sycamore leaves, for instance. This year, our sycamore mostly dried up and shed its leaves early. But way in the top of the tree, a few leaves hung on and are just now fluttering down in time for Thanksgiving table decorations. Their color is a mingling of muted mauve, olive and brown with rather metallic green veins that filigree out from the central stem to the lobe tips. Very arresting— my photo above doesn’t quite do them justice. They seem unreal, in fact, something that if an artist were to put it on canvas, would seem like fakery to sycamore-deficit viewers.
The late autumn leaf show takes a sort of radical turn for us. I see out the window at this very moment on Nov. 19 a little tree clad in bright green leaves amidst the somber brown grove around it. It is a tree form of honeysuckle which I planted years ago and which I have learned since then can become an invasive scourge. Every year I vow to cut it down. And then I see it all decked out in green in November and I tell myself, well, I’ll cut it down next year.
Another scourge trying to get a root-hold in the woods is mulberry. I found out because I spied one green and lovely in the November brown landscape. Trees are sneaky things. Turn your back on a fencerow or woodland edge, and up they pop, seemingly over night. Before you know it, they are 15 feet tall and headed toward the clouds. I will cut this one down this winter even though it is lovely now. I know how pestiferous this kind of mulberry can be.
The best part of the autumn leaf show is seldom honored by poet or painter. In our mostly maple grove, the falling leaves turn the forest floor into a glittering, golden rug for a few precious days after they fall. This scene is especially awesome when the morning sun, which can now slice through the trees unhindered because the leaves are mostly down, makes this golden floor glitter almost as if it were on fire.
Speaking of leaves on fire, our vote for the most sensational fall leaf coloring is our Japanese maple. Its leaves are so brilliantly crimson in November that when the sun shines on them, they actually light up the nearby laundry room through the window with a reddish glow.
I think about how lucky we are to have a free art museum all around us. But then there’s the dark side— all those leaves to pick up off the lawn. Even that has its artistic aspect. The grass, protected by the falling leaves through the early frosts is still strikingly green and summery when the leaves are removed. And of course, there’s all that mulch for the garden next year.