I find it refreshing to see the leaves change and fall in the autumn. Bright colors precede the letting go of energy invested and resources used. A tree will have no qualms about pieces of its being falling from sight, swept up in the October winds. Leaves are a costly piece of equipment to maintain. In my understanding, chlorophyll molecules are constantly bombarded and damaged by the same solar energy that gives plants their ability to perform photosynthesis. Over time, these organic solar panels deteriorate and must be replaced. As we see shorter days, or more accurately a shorter photoperiod, it makes sense for a tree to discontinue the expensive maintenance on an organ that provides diminishing returns through the late summer and fall. So they drop. The extravagant green chlorophyll pigments deteriorate, leaving the ever present orange and yellow carotenoids to show through. The showy red and purple anthocyanins develop in these late months due to changes in the leaf’s chemistry as it uses up its last sugars and prepared to release. Dropping one by one at first, great showers of walnut and maple leaves delight any who venture out in the crisp cool days of October and November. For the most stalwart leaves, only the brown pigment of the dead cells is left before they fall or stubbornly hang on through the first snow. By relinquishing part of itself, the tree prepares to survive the winter. It will not produce new glucose through photosynthesis. It will store its energy through cold and dark months; a season of rest for an ecological powerhouse.

What areas of our lives are producing those diminishing returns? I don’t take time often enough to reflect on the day-to-day activities that fill my time. Which ones are using more (energy, creativity, time, effort, etc.) than they are worth? So often I have squandered “down-time” with worry and busyness rather than restoration or conservation of my own inner strengths and energies. It is vitally important to us to determine which leaves may fall that we might survive the season of rest.

In the Spring, the loss of Autumn is reclaimed. Saved energy over winter produces new leaves and fresh solar collectors for a new growing season. So too we can experience this refreshment of our own Spring when it comes if we let go of the things that hamper us in the Autumn, if we release those functions that no longer fulfill their purpose. This, of course, is no easy task. Thanks for reading.

-Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

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