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Autumn Colours

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

Fall is the best season but it’s also the shortest. This year, we’ve had an unusually long period of frost free days and some warm weather to enjoy hikes into the woods to enjoy the colours. This shortness of the fall season makes me feel a certain melancholy. I know that all this beauty must die and be born-again after the winter of rest. There is a long cold winter waiting in line to transform the landscape and our lives into a far less colourful experience. Like the other animals, we are headed towards a period of hibernation.

Before you know it, the last maple leaf, drained of its orange hue, is trembling on the branch and the birds have flown to their wintering grounds. Being in the autumn years of my life, I feel a deep calling to live life fully. I wake up on fall days with the desire to “soak it all in” and enjoy each moment I encounter while we’re still able. Acutely aware that the fireworks display of fall colours is so momentary that it will all be over in a wrinkle of time. During this flamboyant season, with all the trees clad in their finest festive dresses, I feel compelled to grab my partner and join into the dance of life. Carpe Diem! Seize the moment!

This story is about autumn, two grandfathers, science, and miracles.

Opa came to Canada from Holland once while I was a child of five years of age. He was here for six weeks and then disappeared like the morning dew, and was almost lost in the mists of time and memory. He left behind his stories and a wagon fashioned out of an old pram that he made for me and my siblings. He told me about gnomes (kabouters), storks carrying babies, and winged cherubs. The stories about kabouters were so compelling that I was sure that I had seen them scurrying through the garden. The cherubs came down from heaven at night with buckets of paint and painted all the leaves in the trees during the fall. They were shy because they didn’t wear any clothes, so they came only when we were sleeping.

I asked him why the leaves looked so delicious but didn’t taste so good. He said that he also wondered about it and didn’t have an answer. Every year I bite into a glossy red maple leaf only to rediscover that they don’t taste as good as they look.

Years later I became a teacher and was enjoying giving a science lesson on why leaves turned colours during autumn. I talked about how in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight, and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green colour disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendour. I went on to talk about pigments below the chlorophyll layers such as carotenes and how the leaves stop making food(sugar) for the trees.

An indigenous child in my class said that his grandfather told him that Creator asks the trees to drop their leaves so that small animals and plants could have a blanket to keep away winters cold. I told the child that I’d love to meet his grandfather. Days later the grandfather came to school to pick up his grandchildren. He asked me about the lesson I taught about leaves turning in the fall. I enthusiastically recalled the lesson about chloroplasts, carotenes, and photosynthesis and revelled in giving the details. When I had finished with my scientific explanation he smiled and said that he was amazed that there were so many details involved in Creator making the leafy blanket for the little creatures.

Now I have my own grandchildren. They have learned about the cherubs painting the leaves and about Creator asking the trees for their leaves to make a winter blanket. Soon I will tell them about photosynthesis and chloroplasts. Ours is a world filled with miracles and wonder.

There are so many ways to be inspired by nature. The best ones are those ways that make us realize that we are part of the rhythms of life, of birth and death, of hopes and dreams that help to colour our lives with beauty and meaning. Take a walk down your nearest tree-lined street for inspiration. This glorious feast of colour will soon be over.




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