A Time of Change
by James Ehlers
During the course of each year Nature signals the change of seasons in numerous subtle and some very obvious ways. None is more obvious than fall foliage especially here in Vermont. But why do the trees change colors and eventually shed their leafy green uniforms? Native legends says hunters in the sky killed the Great Bear each autumn dripping his blood on the earth, turning leaves red. Roasting bear meat spilling from a celestial kettle turned other leaves yellow.
Science says chilly days and growing nights precipitated by the earth's angle relative to the sun, convince cells in leaf stem bases that it is time for a change. The cells begin to die. The dying cells form a wall preventing nutrients from reaching the leaf. As this happens the green pigmentation of leaves, chlorophyll, begins to break down unmasking the yellows and oranges that are present all year in the leaf.
As cells continue to die the stem eventually weakens to the point where the leaf flutters to the ground. With no leaves, the tree, safe from freezing, lies dormant the remainder of the winter. The marvel of Nature's autumnal journey can be seen from the middle of September through to the weeks before Halloween.
Take a drive north from Massachusetts to Canada along the Green Mountains on Route 100 or head east from Lake Champlain to the White Mountains on Route 15. Visit the land where legends still live, the Northeast Kingdom, traveling Routes 5A, 114 and 105. Enjoy the harvest markets, country fairs or hike and bring a fishing line. Oh, and don't forget to thank the heavens' hunters for the spectacular crimsons and golds that adorn our trees for these special weeks.
James Ehlers is a fly-fishing guide, a hunting guide, and career naturalist. He lives in Underhill, VT.