Article and photos by Joe Mish
Black oak leaves are ablaze in the most incredible orange color, which makes you wonder how the black oak got its name.
A robe of many colors is October’s alone to wear. It is a coarse cloth, woven with silken threads of yellow and orange, melting into the extreme end of the red spectrum. Set against a clear blue sky, the colors radiate with brilliance. While the sun is otherwise occupied behind gathering clouds, the colors are no less extraordinary, as they hold their sharp contrast, presenting with a soft matte finish.
As the robe is placed upon the earth’s shoulders, the colors slowly flow downward in an infinitely slow progression, best seen from high above the earth. With that image in mind, it is easy to visualize autumn as a living creature leaving a momentary trail of color across the breadth of the tilting earth.
An alternative to a live, time lapsed satellite image of autumn’s gradual crawl across the latitudes, is best seen from a lofty vantage point with expansive views. Though the view is static, the full range of colors is on display. The cloth of the colorful cloak lies tight against the contour of the wooded mountains, each undulating feature of the landscape accentuated by shade and light. On a typical sunlit October day, herds of white billowy clouds drift across the blue sky followed on the ground by their shadows trying to keep up. As the lagging shadows flow across the colorful mountainsides, the tints change for a brief moment to provide a sense of movement to an otherwise still image. The scene is more dramatic if you can imagine the passing shadows being that of the artist’s hand working as you watch.
Retreating from distant views to stand within the October woodlands, individual trees and stands of trees become the focus. Each species resplendent in their own genetically defined color, modified to some degree by soil conditions, specifically, available nutrients and moisture. Instead of looking at a mass of treetops where smudges of varied colors blend together, we now see the pixels that make up the distant image.
Comparing trees of the same species, we can see the individual variation of color. Many trees with yellow leaves such as hickories, Norway maples, cherry and tulip poplar trees are very consistent in color. Oaks, sweetgum and some maples, whose leaves have a red component, show the most diversity.
The most glorious displays of fall color are where we find them, scattered among the local landscape. Each, an emissary heralding the arrival of autumn; apart from the mass of color sweeping across the land.
We all have a perennial favorite we watch on a daily basis to gauge the progress of autumn color.
A lone white oak in the middle of a field or a native red maple pressing against the chain link fence in the backyard, as seen from the bathroom window, serve as daily alerts.
Among the many autumn images accumulated in my experience, the one that keeps appearing is an old abandoned farm road lined with Norway maples, all the same size. The tree tops form a tight canopy over the road, keeping it clear of weeds and paving it with a golden carpet of fallen leaves. The length of the yellow paved road has a hint of a vanishing point that beckons a traveler to follow deeper into the fire of autumn color.
Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.