What comes to mind when you think of your garden or the landscape in the fall? Not including all the work gardeners do in preparation for the coming winter, sit back and just meditate on all the things you associate with fall. My list was amazingly long and looking at it as a whole, it brought a rather peaceful happiness to me. Leaves played a very big part in my association with fall, as I expect the same will be true for others. Like the sound of fallen leaves skittering down the road in a breeze, the sound of drying corn stalks in the breeze, or the joyous shrieking of the neighborhood children playing in the leaves. I must admit, I still enjoy plowing through a pile of leaves…I’m just more apt to clean up afterwards. My Mom’s favorite is being outside when a breeze brings down a whole cascade of pine needles or leaves and she’s in the middle of it. What a great picture that would be!
I have also never lost my wonderment at Mother Nature’s mélange of colors, ranging from the eye-popping intensity of the maples and dogwoods to the rather muted toasty warm of the oaks. And just for a short time if you catch it just right, the ground when it is carpeted in newly fallen leaves still vibrant in color. And on a technical note, leaves are commonly used for plant identification, but in the case of deciduous woody plants, fall takes away this option and identification is then based primarily on bud anatomy, bud arrangement, and leaf scar details.
Fall has a unique scent as well…a combination of the dying leaves releasing volatile organic compounds like terpenes and isoprenoids, the fungal decomposition of plant matter, and the overlying scent of wood fires from fire pits and fireplaces staving off a nip in the air.
The animals are different as well. Fur-bearing animals like deer, foxes and squirrels are taking on their winter coat, giving them a noticeable plushness. Gone are the hummingbirds and indigo buntings, but in their place are birds like the dark-eyed junco, purple finch, yellow-bellied sapsucker and white-throated sparrow. Mosquitoes…gone! And without the sound of crickets, toads and frogs as a constant background, the songs and calls of blue jays, American crows and Carolina wrens are all the more vivid.
The tilt of the Earth’s axis is what gives us our season, thus the fall season marks the time when the northern hemisphere starts angling away from the sun and those in the southern hemisphere get to welcome spring. Fall means our daylight hours will continue to get progressively shorter until the official start of winter, resulting in driving in the dark a lot more often and coming in from the garden all the more sooner.
The density or lushness of the landscape changes with the fall as well. As leaves drop and many of the herbaceous perennials begin to fade away into dormancy, there are windows of space created that allows one to see into areas otherwise obscured. The same can be said of the millions of acres of field corn after harvest. The structure of trees, shrubs and the lay of the land are revealed, and sometimes entire buildings are suddenly visible. The sound of lawn mowers dwindles, to be replaced by the sound of rakes and leaf blowers. It is also a time when I have to be more careful about parking under trees, because bird droppings are all the more likely without the leaves running interference.
Some plants I just associate with fall, either as a decoration or as something to eat. With something to eat, I think of spiced hot apple cider, root vegetables and winter squash…especially in pumpkin pie. For something decorative, I think of bittersweet, jack-o-lanterns, corn stalks, hay bales, asters and chrysanthemums…and just thinking of them brings me full circle to the smell of fall.
And my final musing about fall is stepping out in the morning in coat and boots to walk the dog, when there is rime on the ground and rooftops, and the dog’s and my breath is visible. All is still and peaceful, until Sophia spots a small herd of deer. And with an utter look of shear doggie joy, she is off and running with me following along at a much slower pace.