Some years, summer’s heat and its green march across the lawn arrive with a suddenness that suggest we’ve gone straight from winter to summer with no stop for spring. This doesn’t happen with autumn. Thanks to the turning of the leaves when summer fades to fall, it’s a transition impossible to miss.
Even though the leaves turn every year, even though it’s impossible to miss, it doesn’t always look the same.
Some seasons the trees along the roads and in the woods wear a regal assortment of gold, russet, and scarlet, intense pigments as invigorating as the crisp autumn air. Other years they cloak themselves in a faded array of the matronly hues of serviceable cloth.
The difference between the two lies in the weather.
During the growing season, the chlorophyll that colors the leaves green is constantly replenished by a transaction between sun and tree. As fall ushers in short days, a weak spot forms between the branch and the leaf. This weak spot, known as the abscission layer, prevents any exchange between the leaf and the tree. Chlorophyll restoration ceases and the leaves lose their green color.
The most vibrant displays result from a summer of abundant rain followed by an autumn of dry, sunny days with cool, frost-free nights. When low temperatures arrive after the abscission layer develops, it hastens the loss of chlorophyll and causes fall’s orange and yellows to arrive early. At the same time, the brilliant days and chilly nights enhance the reds and purples which lend autumn its splendor.
After a dry growing season, trees shed their leaves prematurely. They drift to the ground before decreasing daylight diminishes the production of the chlorophyll mask and fall’s yellow and orange are revealed by the fading green. An untimely freeze hinders the leaf’s ability to make the intense red and purple pigments that give the forest vista depth.
The colors of autumn are influenced by the season which came before.
Sometimes, during a stretch of difficult days, a friend will tell me, or I will tell her, or we’ll tell one another, “It’s a season,” and look forward to the day it will pass and the situation will be different. But when it gives way, when whatever has been coloring life fades and the new season is revealed, it doesn’t seem quite right. It lacks some brilliance. It isn’t as vibrant as expected.
I wonder if, like the colors of the leaves, our seasons are influenced by the ones which came before.
Perhaps there was a drought of sleep, money, or friendship. Or a deluge of opportunities and obligations. Or the chill of hardship, disease, or death. Or maybe just too much cloud cover for too long.
It takes time for the effects of a such seasons to pass, time for the rain to penetrate the parched soil of our lives or the flood of too much to recede, time to feel the warmth and brightness of the sun on heart and mind, body and soul.
It takes time and I find it hard to wait. Still, it’s worth it, to count on the nature of seasons, to believe that a new one is one the way, to remember that as one color draws back another will be revealed, and that, while it might not be at all what I expected, there is a time for everything. Every single thing.