Monday, December 13, 2010

Leaf Fall

This fall I made a point of watching for the moment of leaf fall, because every year I seem to miss it.  One day it is bright and warm and the leaves are on the trees and, seemingly, the next day, the leaves are on the ground and I am wearing a jacket.  Despite my intentions, I feel like the same thing has happened again this year.  Once again, the trees are bare and I feel like I missed the process.  Once again, it feels like we skipped from summer to our version of winter.

In my neighborhood, the pecan trees along Boggy Creek represent the majority.  When the pecan trees drop their leaves, my perception shifts from the leaves are still on the trees to the leaves have fallen, no matter that many trees lag behind the precise and timely pecans, who always seem to drop their leaves in mass at the end of November.

Despite my shifted perceptions, though, the live oaks are still green, the junipers are flowering (thus beginning cedar-fever season), and the red oaks, known for their "deciduous but tardily so" habit, have yet to finish their fall color change from green to yellow, orange, red, or burgundy.  Cottonwood trees, common but scattered along Boggy Creek and its tributaries, still hold yellow leaves as well, and their late-season visibility, amongst so many bare-branched neighbors, has me wondering about the original scope of the Boggy Creek watershed, before all the development and flood control.  And the cedar elm in my backyard has been slowly dropping its leaves and samaras for weeks now, giving me plenty of time to adjust to the idea of the leaves falling.

In defense of my feeling that the leaves do indeed drop all at once, I have the evidence of the bald cypress trees at McKinney Falls.  In early November, Lee and I hiked on the Homestead Trail at the park, where the cedar elm woodland, though yellowed by the heat of the extended summer, was still covered in green leaves, and the only orange or red leaves that I saw along the trail were on a poison ivy vine.  Nearer to the falls, along Onion Creek, the bald cypress trees were just starting to turn orange.  The sun was so bright that it was hard to capture a good shot that day, but I am glad that I tried, because I have proof that on November 7th the cypress trees along Onion Creek were still fully covered in green, yellow, and orange needles.

By November 25, less than three weeks after our initial visit, Lee and I returned to McKinney Falls for more hiking.  When we started the loop around the park, it was hot and humid, in fact so humid that I wished I had disregarded my own advice and worn shorts instead of pants.  About halfway around the loop, as the trail turned back to the north, we walked into a cold front, and thus into a different season.  Cold, dry air replaced the humidity and unseasonable warmth so quickly that, within minutes of wishing I had worn shorts, I couldn't wait to get back to the car and to my jacket.  Later, wearing hoodies and hats, Lee and I explored the creek area between the upper and lower falls, where the cypress trees that had still been covered in needles a few weeks earlier were mostly bare.  Their rust-colored needles, now fallen, floated in Onion Creek.

So I guess it's not unreasonable to feel like I miss the leaf fall each year.  It happens very quickly and the wildly changing weather of our cool season amplifies the sense of abruptness.  One minute it is hot and humid, and the next minute it is cold and dry, making it only natural that I am shocked to find myself wearing warmer clothes and noticing that the leaves have fallen off the trees.  Luckily for the trees, it is day length, not temperature, that cues leaf fall, allowing them to quietly get on with the business of preparing for colder temperatures even while I am being fooled into forgetting what time of year it is.  And what a privilege it is, to forget about winter.

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