The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.
— Emily Dickinson, “Autumn,” 1890
I especially enjoy the last two lines of this poem in which the author feels compelled to wear jewelry in the presence of nature’s colorful fall displays.
However, I know the shiniest trinkets can’t compete with the brilliance of the ruby and gold autumn leaves on the maple trees in my front yard. In the coming weeks, particularly in the morning sun, those maples will be dazzling.
However, I relate to Emily Dickinson’s need to do something to make herself feel better. I look forward to fall, yet I turn melancholy, and these lines in her poem suggest that others share such a seasonal mood change. Dickinson feels outdated next to autumn’s grand finery, whereas I tend to focus on fall as an ending. Another growing season finishes, soon to be followed by the close of another year. Where did the time go? It’s no wonder that Halloween began as a fall tradition to honor those whose time on Earth has passed.
Yet focusing on autumn as an ending overlooks the fact that the change in leaf colors is actually the result of a growth process. Deciduous trees and shrubs are sensitive to lengthening nights, or photoperiods, which trigger leaf cells to begin dividing and building a layer that blocks the connection between leaves and other parts of the tree. The production of chlorophyll slows and then stops, causing the green pigments to give way to hidden pigments in the leaves that have been waiting all year for a chance to show off their colors. By turning down the lights, fall provides the leaves with their moments of glory.
Although not as famous as the colors of New England, Southern Oregon has its own autumn pageantry. One of my fall traditions is to hike up Roxy Ann Peak with Jerry and the dogs and gaze across the valley’s tapestry of colors.
Oregon has several native trees with colorful fall leaves, ranging from orange, yellow, burgundy and red depending on the species, including white oaks, big leaf maples, vine maples, Pacific dogwoods, Western redbuds, Oregon ashes and alders.
Some of the showiest colors are displayed on trees that are not native to Oregon but are commonly found in Rogue Valley parks and residential yards, such as sugar maples, sweetgums, sumacs and quaking aspens (all North American natives), as well as the smaller Japanese maples, gingkoes, katsuras, smoke trees, stewartias and intermedia witch hazels.
See if you can identify these native and non-native trees by their colorful fall foliage on my blog.
I recently learned about Oregon Fall Foliage, a blog dedicated to up-to-date tracking of the best places to experience the beauty of fall foliage in Oregon. Contributors recommend several areas in Southern Oregon to visit. Closest to home are Ashland’s Lithia Park and the Applegate Valley. Other suggestions include Klamath Basin, Lake of the Woods, Rocky Point, Keno, Crater Lake, Union Creek and Prospect, Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway, Myrtle Creek and Canyonville tour route, and Roseburg.
Experts say that a series of dry days like we’ve been having lately, combined with cool nighttime temperatures, provide the ideal conditions for sparkling fall color, whereas a lot of fall rain and wind can shorten the display. By getting out in the next few weeks and experiencing all of the dramatic colors, I’m sure I’ll be too busy for my mood to be gray. I may even put on a trinket or two in celebration of autumn’s grand finale.
— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at email@example.com. For more on gardening, visit her blog at: http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.