Autumn Isn’t the Same When the Leaves Don’t Fall
Photo: The famous Little White Church and Eaton Village are seen under a Red Maple branch looking across Crystal Lake during a New England Fall Day, Eaton Village New Hampshire (Photo by: Digital Light Source/UIG via Getty Images)
Autumn has always been a season of romantic melancholy, of a bright, beautiful burst of color and the rich, thick scent of leaves falling from the trees, trampled underfoot, releasing the succulence of their lives back to the earth. For many, the fall is a time to travel and see the wonders of it all, the vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds cast against spots of green that begin to disappear. It takes us back to some of our earliest sensory memories of childhood, of back to school weather, of the last hurrahs before winter takes it all from us.
But a drought across New England and the Southeast, in conjunction with the on-going effects of climate change, has changed the game. In some areas, the foliage turned ahead of schedule; in others, it has not turned at all. In addition to impacting the tourism industry of states across the eastern seaboard and inland to Tennessee, the change in the cycles are affecting the environment directly.
The shortened daylight, combined with the drop in temperature, sends a signal to trees that it’s time to start shutting down for winter, so that they can preserve their nutrients for spring, when the environment fosters the new growth of life. As trees cease producing chlorophyll, leaves turn orange and yellow in certain species of tree. Red leaves, colored by anthocyanins, are believed to provide both protection from the sun and drop in temperature as the chlorophyll breaks down.
The drought has affected the trees in various ways. In some areas such as Massachusetts, where the drought has been severest, a great many trees turned brown. Further south, in North Carolina, a more moderate drought delayed the peak of foliage by a week.
At the same time, the temperatures are much warmer than ever before, due to the greenhouse effect. As gases such as carbon dioxide accumulate in the atmosphere, the overall temperature continues to increase. The result has been a delay in the turning of the leaves. We are living in a time of autumn without fall.
Consider the radical change in just 160 years, from the world of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote the essay, “Autumnal Tints,” to describe the stunning sights of his native Concord, MA, for the October 1862 issue of The Atlantic: “October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight.”
Here in New York, mid-November, plenty of trees are still green. The impact of these changes is devastating to the environment as a whole, as scientists believe that warmer temperatures could threaten cold-weather hardwoods such as blazing maple trees.
It’s too soon to know what the long-term impact will be on the planet as a whole, but it serves us to remember that trees are a critical component of the oxygen-carbon dioxide loop. A tree devoid of leaves closely resembles the bronchioles of the lungs. We are one with the earth, and any suffering the planet faces will affect us as well.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.