Recently, a leisurely lunch while reading the newspaper on the back patio was interrupted by the cacophony of Canada Geese honking up a storm as they flew overhead in their characteristic "V" formation.
To add some emphasis to the moment, I had just read the first Maryland Department of Natural Resources “Fall Foliage Report Preview.” The preview from Sept. 18 reported, “'Overall, leaf drop has started to lightly cover the roads in some patches from maple, walnut, and sycamore trees,' [said] Daniel B. Hedderick, project forester in Allegany County. ‘Dogwoods have formed red berries and some leaves have a slight color change. The trained eye can see the trees are ready to prepare for a long winter’s nap.’”
And after the 2020 year of COVID-19, I am more than ready to join the leaves for a very long winter nap.
The cooler temperatures have given us a break from running the air conditioner. We have been delighted to have the opportunity to open the windows and let some fresh into the house. Arguably, there is no prettier time of the year in Carroll County than autumn.
If you are a runner, hiker, or you enjoy riding a bicycle, the Wakefield Valley Trail in Westminster is just starting its fall celebration. Whether you walk or run, the Wakefield Valley Community Trail is arguably one of the best places to enjoy fall in Carroll County; or Piney Run Park in Sykesville, and Hashawha, just north of Westminster.
Over the years I have written a number of times about autumn in Maryland and the fall leaves changing colors. Portions of this (therapy session) discussion have been published before. The beauty of the fall leaves changing colors always brings about mixed emotions. Like many, I love the beauty of nature on display, but I dread what follows.
In the back of our minds we all know that fall is followed by winter. Winters in Maryland lurk in the shadows waiting to take us by surprise. Winters in Maryland are hateful. It’s an endurance contest, mentally and physically. Snow is a four-letter word. Ice is the wrath of the Gods. So enjoy the fall foliage and weather while it’s here.
Every autumn we read of the exciting escapes available where we can see beautiful fall foliage. The trips invite you to go to New England, western Pennsylvania, the Pocono Mountains, down the Shenandoah Valley, or travel to upstate New York. The brochures and articles invite you to enjoy all the wonderful hotels and scrumptious places to eat.
All those places are probably great, but many of us know the best place for looking at fall foliage is right here in Carroll County.
I love to travel, but let’s face it, nothing beats waking up in your own bed, and raiding the refrigerator in your own kitchen. Besides we have the best restaurants around. Folks from other parts of the state travel great distances to eat in the restaurants right here in our own back yard.
While it is widely believed that the cooler weather causes all those colors, temperature is only one small ingredient. Frost plays a role in the intensity of the colors, but the main factor is length of day. Trees and the food manufacturing process of leaves are very sensitive to the amount of light they receive and as the days get shorter a whole cascade of chemical — hormonal — events begin.
Trees actually stop “growing” around June. At that time, they set next year’s leaf buds and begin planning for next spring. The rest of the summer trees stay busy manufacturing and storing food, in the form of complex sugars, called carbohydrates, to support next year’s growth. The food is stored in the branches, roots, and buds of the tree.
The main chef of the spring and summer food preparation process is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is actually a generic name for a member of the tetrapyrrole family of organic compounds. It is the green-colored photoreceptor of light energy in the actual food manufacturing process called photosynthesis.
The organic compound chlorophyll is manufactured and replaced constantly throughout the spring and summer. It only uses the red and blue wavelengths of sunlight to prepare the food-sugars. The green color of the leaf actually serves to protect the food manufacturing process from getting too much ultraviolet light.
As the nights grow longer, there is not enough sunlight available for the food manufacturing to be efficient, plant hormones — the plant administrators, cause an abscission layer to form at the bottom of the leaf blocking raw materials from entering the leaf. Since no raw ingredients are arriving in the leaf, the chlorophyll begins to get tired and breakdown.
As the chlorophyll goes away, the presence of the other sous-chefs are revealed — an array of other organic vacuolar sap compounds. According to some notes from information distributed by the U.S. National Arboretum, chlorophyll normally masks the yellow pigments known as xanthophylls and the orange pigments called carotenoids. Red and purple pigments come from anthocyanins.
This year, the leaves ought to be at their best in Carroll County soon — maybe right after Oct. 15. Enjoy it while you can. We still need to get through three more months of the Pandemic of 2020.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at email@example.com.