Falling Leaves


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.


Being new to the Central Coastal area of Oregon, I thought I was the only one who went gawking about as the maples turned yellow and orange and brown before the trees were stripped to almost ghostly bare limbs by a recent storm. My wife and I were amazed that about half the trees in our backyard abruptly shed their leaves in unison as a single strong gust hit them. If only I had a video of that! One nice thing about the bare branches – I can tell where I need to prune the fruit trees in a month or so.

I live in the coastal region of South Carolina which does not have a significant fall color show from the leaves. However, I am am truck driver and get to see the coming of fall colors over and over again as I travel up and down the highways of this beautiful country. It is one of the best benefits of my jobs and one that I look forward to each year. However, I look forward to the day I can climb out of the truck and settle into a homestead where I can enjoy the simple pleasures of life each day of the season.

janandy1988@yahoo.com November 23, 2012 at 6:59 am

Sometimes I get so used to reading your books and just talking with you and Carol I forget what an incredible writer you are… This is just beautiful … a piece of written poetic art. Think I’ll go take a walk in the woods…

I generally like to have about 30ft wide rows along roads and the edge of fields for wildlife and a barrier.Honeysuckle along with Russian Olive,Autumn Olive,blackberry,raspberry and anything else thats like to grow is more than welcome and there are some spectacular foliage and berries,about every 4 or 5 years I’ll bush hog it all down before the trees take over and it’ll start all over.I do sections in rotation so the birds and other things have a place to go usually cut it in early Spring to lessen the impact.Very interesting to me to watch these strips develop during different times of the year and as they change from one year ot the next.

I wish I could talk my wife into leaving some of the poison ivy plants alone around here-the leaves are gorgeous in the fall!

Beautiful leaf in photo. So subtle in color, speaking winter wisdom out of the corner of its mouth.

The week before Thanksgiving here in Southwest Maine is when I rake the leaves that have miraculously blown into piles in corners of the driveway, onto the perennial and herb beds. It was just in time this year, as every year, because we had some sudden cold nights, upper teens, as always. The plants are tucked in, safe from climate-change thaw mid-winter. We will have herbs and flowers in late spring, whenever the warm has been convincing and I can rake off the blankets of cozy, fall leaves.

The pond had crusted. The new ducks were shocked. They ran out onto the crust, looked around, conversed, and then, suddenly, one fell through and the entire crust structure gave way. My husband and I have a permanent memory of panicked ducklings flapping and skittering to the open water. A cartoonist could have used this. They are now in full winter habitat, as the whole pond and the electric fence stakes are frozen. Now is the adjustment between the old ducks and the new ones. We make sure everyone has a chance to eat some breakfast and bathe in the small bussing pans. There is no problem at night as they are divided into 4 separate tiny cages. But daytime free range is what they live for over the winter. The new young mallards seem to be dominating the old buff Orpingtons. But, in the end, everyone seems to be getting something worthwhile in their short winter day. So do we by caring for them.

Happy winter. Tuck in your duckies.


Sycamore leaves on my lawn haven’t been raked and the provide a bonanza for the chickens to scratch in. Seem to protect a bunch of bugs who would otherwise have succumbed to the frost.

Beautiful post Gene. My leaves are still on the grass. My dogs love to run through the piles just like I did when I was a kid, and they are so fun to watch. Thanks for reminding me that the best fun is usually free. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I no-till planted for my neighbor on some rolling hills near the foothills of the Coast Range here in Oregon. The round hills were green and brown with splotches of different shades of Orange and were framed by the taller green surrounding hills covered in evergreens that gradually faded into the taller mountain ridges in progressive shades of blue grey.
It was a pretty incredible sight. I tried to take a photo but the photo could not do it justice.

Gene, how beautiful, thanks for letting me tour your art museum in my mind’s eye!

We’re in the middle of a walloping wind/rain storm that will probably bring down most of the remaining leaves in our personal forest. Aside from the nonnative trees, most of our leaves are muted colors — ocher, umber, sienna, dull gold, bronze and olive. But a few oak trees turn deep yellow, and since their bark is almost black, look absolutely stunning against a deep blue sky just after a rainstorm when the whole tree glistens in late afternoon sunshine. Ol’ Ma Nature can indeed be a bitch (as you’ve mentioned in the past, Gene) but she’s also quite an artist. Hope all of you who will be celebrating the holiday have a great Thanksgiving and others just have a great day!

I’m sure you know that you gotta get rid of that honeysuckle! Before you know it, it’ll have crowded out the columbines, bloodroots, and even the wild dogwoods.

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