Article and photo by Nancy Nabak, Communication Coordinator for Woodland Dunes
In Wisconsin there are 4 seasons: winter, spring, summer and Nat King Cole. It is impossible to live here and not think of Nat King Cole when autumn arives. In my house, the orange colored candle gets lit and the vinyl comes out.
Nat, in his silky voice, croons the sentimental lyrics to Autumn Leaves, “The falling leaves drift by my window, the autumn leaves of red and gold. I see your lips, the summer kisses, the sun-burned hands I used to hold.” This classic song has been performed many times and by many great artists such as Frank Sinatra, Eric Clapton and the beautiful jazz vocalist, Eva Cassidy, but none bring home the honest romantic feeling of love lost and missed like Nat.
Autumn is the season of smoke curls wafting from chimneys, apple picking in the orchard, and the crowning of the high school Homecoming King and Queen. But none of these would be as compelling without a backdrop of the vividly changing autumn leaves.
Right now, Mother Nature’s paintbrush is displaying some of her finest work. Daylight is getting shorter and the temperatures are changing, causing the leaves to stop their food making process. (For science geeks reading this, photoperiodism is the technical term for change in daylight length.) When chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears and the yellow (xanthophylls) and orange (carotenoids) pigments become visible, creating these splendid displays.
Some of my favorite deciduous tree pallets are birch, sugar maples and staghorn sumac. Their brilliant colors are what make photographers change their f-stops, focus their lens from wildlife to leaves, and create color-filled calendars for doctor and business offices around the country.
Birches like to splash a bright, luminescent yellow, sugar maples will offer golds, oranges and reds in a perfect trio blend, and the staghorn sumac offers a bold show of systematic changes. When sumac first starts to change, you’ll notice an almost Christmas-like blend of red and greens. As they lose more chlorophyll, the reds become more obvious until they light up our roadsides and highways like a burning bush.
These wondrous colors only last for a short while so if you haven’t gotten out for a leaf-peeping day trip, get out there now. Mother Nature is strutting her stuff on the red carpet of fall colors. And all too soon, just as Nat sang, these beautiful autumn leaves will start to fall.