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The little oak tree that could. November 11, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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One of our friend Ben’s and Silence Dogood’s favorite autumn sights here on our rural property, Hawk’s Haven, is the turning of our ‘Aconitifolium’ Japanese maple leaves. The leaves become the most glorious red-scarlet anyone could imagine, as though the sky has caught fire. We dream of this turning during the winter, spring, and summer, and luxuriate in it every day in fall.

So our friend Ben was looking out our home office window this morning, enjoying the blazing color, when it suddenly occurred to me that I was looking much farther to the right than our prized Japanese maple could possibly be. I was looking, in fact, at our property line, where several years ago I’d transplanted a tiny red oak seedling.

The poor oakling had sprouted where no trees could ever be allowed to grow, in our already-crowded shady creekside garden. But our friend Ben hated the idea of uprooting and composting a future mighty oak, however inconvenient its location. So instead, I transplanted it to a bare spot on our property line, where, despite years of drought and neglect, it thrived and grew.

If you know oaks, you know that they’re one of the last trees to color up in fall (along with our hated Norway maples). So our friend Ben had not been giving the red oak much attention, blinded as I was by the glorious Japanese maple a few yards away. But in the meantime, the oak had been quietly building up to its own pyrotechnical autumn display. It is, our friend Ben has to admit, simply stunning, a joyous end to the fall color progression.

Thank you, little oak tree. Thank you for rewarding my tender-heartedness with such beauty. My heart leaps up when I behold your glorious autumn display.


Those glorious autumn leaves. November 1, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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As an October baby, our friend Ben loves the beauty of fall more than any other season. Not that I needed a reminder, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of this last week when Silence Dogood and I traveled from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley to the Blue Ridge to visit our friends Cole, Bruce and Edith in scenic Charlottesville, VA. The clear blue air, the colorful foliage, and the blues of the mountain ranges were simply breathtaking the entire way.

The colorful brilliance of the foliage made our friend Ben think about perception and perceived reality. So often, humankind’s interpretation of reality has been more marvelous, more mysterious, more majestic than the reality itself.

So many times, science has destroyed beauty and mystery by explaining it. Who wants to know the reason for rainbows, or that stars are simply distant suns, or the reason for consistent near-death visions or deja vu? As a species, we crave a mystery, and we crave the glorious, and we crave a tidy, happy ending: Give us the pot of gold and the wishing star and the hope of heaven and the far-seeing.

That’s why our friend Ben loves that the explanation for fall foliage color is even more mysterious and magical than our assumptions about it: The true explanation is better and more marvelous than anything we could imagine. We say that leaves turn color in fall. But science tells us that the colors leaves “turn,” the yellows and oranges, were really there all along, simply disguised by the green chlorophyll that fed the waking plant.

Surely this is a greater mystery—the glorious colors waiting to be uncloaked by the retreating chlorophyll—than any our imaginations could devise. It is the ultimate antidote to the lines of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in his wonderful poem, “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child”: “Margaret, are you grieving/Over goldengrove unleaving?” How can we grieve over colors concealed, then revealed? Surely this is cause for rejoicing.

Layered leaves. October 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As I took our black German shepherd puppy Shiloh out for a bathroom break this morning, I noticed that the various shrubs and trees in one part of our yard created a waterfall of yellow and chartreuse. Or maybe it was more like a geyser, because for some reason I saw it from the bottom up rather than the top down. (Maybe being 5’5″ had something to do with this. Shut up, Ben.)

Taking it from the bottom, there were the fountaining gold foliage sprays of our colony of Solomon’s seal. Above them, the true yellow scallops of rose-of Sharon leaves. Higher still, the chartreuse-yellow of massive oval pawpaw leaves, then the green-yellow hearts of redbud leaves, and finally, the yellow and gold of maple leaves, all ascending like a cloud of gold to heaven.

The varying leaf shapes and differing shades of yellow were delightful. But accenting them were the carpets of deep green groundcovers I often see contemptuously dismissed: vinca (periwinkle), pachysandra, English ivy, lily-of-the-valley. That emerald tapestry set the perfect stage for the yellows and golds of autumn leaves. Finally, these tough, humble, ubiquitous groundcovers had come into their own.

Today’s skies were grey and rainy, but they couldn’t spoil the green-and-gold effect. And if tomorrow’s skies are a glorious clear fall blue, that ascending symphony of green and gold and blue will take my breath away. No wonder I love fall!

         ‘Til next time,