Seeing Red


Nothing quite brilliant yet, but lovely contrast in its own right on display in the Japanese maple.
  • This September has been unusually warm and well-watered.  There have also been no overly windy storms.  Some trees continue full display as if this were md-summer. 
  • Closer examination reveals, however, that the chlorophyll is starting to leach away .  Some leaves may gleam more shockingly scarlet than others, some reveal insect damage, and a few have already crisped brown and drifted onto pavement.


A few sheltered roses may bloom until first frost, but for most this is its final flower of the year.
  • There is plenty of red left over from summer this year.  Roses still bloom sporadically, various fragile annuals have not succumbed to deep overnight low temperatures.  But internal clocks on even those are setting off alarms to produce seed, and either die of old age or begin the work of hibernation.
  • Rose cycles remind me of the standard-issue biography of artists.  As spring goes by they quickly grow from seemingly dead stalks and by early summer are in full glorious display, covered with huge, marvelously shaped, and often fragrant flowers, with buds the look even more delicious.  From these a few few rose hips are produced into midsummer.  Although the exuberance is gone, a few blossoms burst forth through early fall, becoming less and less, always unexpected.  And then it is over.


It can be the most unnoticed niche which provides great beauty, simply because we usually fail to see it.
  • Red sun at night, sailor’s delight.
  • Weather on Long Island does not always arrive with the west wind.


Autumnal fogs often arrive bringing a tactile spray of light mist to mysterious luminosity and silence.
  • In my youth we thought we knew all about biology.  We remained almost totally unaware, not even at the point when as, today, we admit our own ignorance.  A little beyond the application of some mysterious life force to animate the inanimate, but not much.  Trees in fall were one example.
  • We learned that trees stop making chlorophyll which turns leaves green.  That reveals all the pigments that remain so spectacularly in sugar maples.  Then the water stops, leaves brown and fall, and another yearly cycle is complete.
  • Now it turns out to be far more complex.  The tree actively reabsorbs a lot of difficult-to-find molecules and stores them.  Ecology is enriched and partially controlled by what hits the ground, and becomes self-reinforcing for the parent.  Triggers such as light and moisture and cold are still unresolved. 
  • It is a wonderfully intricate dance, which people who just looked and marveled knew a long time ago.


This ivy is poisonous only to humans, which seems appropriate, and beautiful as it dies back.
  • Maples are beginning to tune their crowns, and spaced here and there are dashes of a branch or two glittering orange, red, and yellow.  Maples are glories in New England autumn.  People take long trips to see them, lingering in groves that are naturally as spectacular as any other sights on this continent.
  • Unfortunately, climate change and pollution have severely cut back the local examples, many of which have died out even in the last thirty years or so.  I still have my known specimens to visit, and they mostly still reward, but more and more I see them as hardy survivors, the likes of which will not be seen around here for some time.
  • A lot like myself.  


Genetic quirk or microclimate allows a few early red branches to creep into landscapes,
“Little Snowbird, have a good time far away!”
“Shiver as you will, Big Maple!”
“I like the change of seasonal views!”
“I like the warmth and food.”
“I get time to meditate and think.”
“I get to watch flowers, swim, and eat all winter.”
“Well, be careful .  Have a wonderful time!”

“You too.  See you next spring!”


Smartweed has matured everywhere in thick masses, hidden in plain sight under everything else.
Each day so fine, cannot be told
Nor instants counted, saved, nor sold
A construct of time’s flashing blade
Which my own memories have made.
A week, a month, a year, and more

Perhaps once here, now gone for sure.

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