Autumn’s Red Hues

October 18, 2013

“We love to see any redness in the vegetation of the temperate zone.  It is the color of colors.”
— Henry David Thoreau, October, or Autumnal Tints

Looking down the street where I live

Looking down the street where I live

“As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight.”
— Henry David Thoreau, October, or Autumnal Tints

We are certainly seeing the sunset colors of October in our Seattle foliage right now.  These are some of the things I see as I walk around my neighborhood:
Looking down Corliss Ave N


Jeweled leaves on bushes

Jeweled leaves on bushes


Canna leaf

Grape leaves with grapes

Carpet of red

by Edward Hirsch

Fall, falling, fallen. That’s the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer’s
Sprawling past and winter’s hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

New Use of Old Wood

December 31, 2012

“When trees mature, it is fair and moral that they are cut for man’s use, as they would soon decay and return to the earth.  Trees have a yearning to live again, perhaps to provide the beauty, strength and utility to serve man, even to become an object of great artistic worth.”
— George Nakashima, The Soul of a Tree:  A Wood-worker’s Reflections

Handmade wooden bowl

Handmade wooden bowl

Bowl made from a red maple tree fallen on my family's farm

Bowl made from a red maple tree fallen on my family’s farm

“Ours is a search for pure truth in the most realistic ways — the making of things.”
— George Nakashima, The Soul of a Tree:  A Wood-worker’s Reflections

“There is a line from a Sexton poem: ‘The writer is essentially a crook./  Out of used furniture he makes a tree.’  . . . After all, that is what art should do; create something natural out of all the used-up sticks and bureaus of our lives, the detritus of our lives.”
— Maxine Kumin, To Make a Prairie

One of my most cherished Christmas gifts this year was this wooden bowl made from a fallen red maple tree on my Dad’s farm.  My sister and brother-in-law commissioned the bowl from a wood worker they knew.  It’s a wonderful keepsake from my childhood home, a one-of-a-kind work of art, new use for old wood.

Coincidentally, David Perry, one of the bloggers I follow, just wrote about handmade wooden plates made by a Vermont woodworker and friend.  Perry’s post is a love song to things analog, like the handmade wooden plates and bowl.  I can relate.


Superimposed maple leaves

“Every blade in the field — every leaf in the forest — lays down its life in its season as beautifully as it was taken up.  It is the pastime of a full quarter of the year. . . . And what is that pride of our autumnal scenery but the hectic flush — its painted throes — with the November air for canvas?”
—  Henry David Thoreau, “October, or Autumnal Tints”

It’s been a while since I’ve photographed my “adopted” maple trees and willow.  After a few windy, blustery November days, almost all of the willow leaves have fallen.  The maple holds on to its lower leaves, but the upper branches are stripped of leaves.

Last golden maple leaves cling to the tree’s lower branches

My “adopted” maple trees in late November

A lone willow leaf

Fallen willow leaf






“Men are like trees, each one must put forth the leaf that is created in him.”
Henry Ward Beecher

What kind of leaf are you best represented by?

“I give dates because I am a date tree.  Not everyone likes dates.  I tire of them, too.  I would like to give oranges, pomegranates, or coconuts.  But I don’t happen to grow anything but dates, unfortunately.”
— Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Against Wind and Tide: Letters and Journals 1947 – 1986

“But at the same time, those same two qualities — knowing that we have within us something that marks each of us in a special way and that this quality has been given to use for some reason greater than ourselves — are the essence of coming to wholeness.  The task of determining what that quality is and what to do with it is the single great work of being alive.”
— Joan Chittister, Following the Path:  The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
— e. e. cummings

“Am I still the person I have spent a lifetime becoming, and do I still want to be that person?”
Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom

“Here we stop saying, ‘Well, that’s just the way I am,’ and begin to say, ‘There is more that I can be.’ ”
— Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily:  Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today

I love these quotes because they make me think.  How much of who I am is “God-given” and how much can I control?  When I see my mother in me, or see similar mannerisms and qualities among my eight siblings (stubborn, opinionated, among them), then I know that nature and nurture have perhaps irredeemably shaped large parts of my being.  The leaf does not fall far from the tree!

Looked at that way, the challenge is to develop my talents and tendencies to bring out the best rather than the worst.  To make what can be only my unique contribution to the world.  To champion differences rather than pressure others to fit into my comfort zone.

And yet, there must be a large dose of choice at work.  Can I choose to become a better person, to overcome my faults, to grow into the person I am meant to be?  Can I choose a new path, regardless of my age?  What leaves can I bring forth, and with what vigor?

Strolling along tall cedar trees, Washington Park Arboretum

I made a special visit to the Washington Park Arboretum yesterday to experience Paths II: The Music of Trees, a series of seven sound installations by composer Abby Aresty.  She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, and this outdoor music project is her dissertation.  She recorded natural sounds at these sites in different seasons, and then used them in compositions, which are broadcast in three-hour “concerts” on Wednesdays and Saturdays in October. You can read more about this remarkable project in this Seattle Times article.

I didn’t want the month to pass without checking out this unusual art project.  Armed with a map from the Visitor’s Center, I strolled the paths looking for the seven listening sites.  As always, I enjoyed wandering among the many tall trees of the arboretum.  And the unique soundscapes made this visit especially memorable.

“Twisted things continue to make creaking contortions.” (Gaston Bachelard). At Site 1, twisted plastic tubing becomes “mutant” branches.

The path near Site 1: The Music of Trees

Staircase under Japanese maple, Washington Park Arboretum

Walking beneath the rhododendrons at Site 4, where the sounds featured raindrops on leaves

Rhododendron bud

Site 6 used hanging sculptures like wind chimes, and the music incorporated the sounds of falling leaves.

Looking up into the maple tree at Site 7. I couldn’t hear the sound concert because a maintenance crew was blowing leaves down the way.

Washington Park Arboretum

Light-dappled curtain of leaves


Colorful Japanese maple against evergreen

Cluster of oak leaves

Bench, Washington Park Arboretum

Street light, Washington Park Arboretum

“Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.”
— Elizabeth Lawrence

The turning of the maple leaves

“Thoreau is a first-class noticer, and he is our most articulate observer. He understood the power of and the need for directed attention carried out with the utmost intensity. He understood that we are what we give our attention to, and, long before William James put it in words, Thoreau understood that “attention and belief are the same fact.” Finally, Thoreau doesn’t just give you one autumn, he gives you the way to see every autumn.”
— Robert Richardson, “Fall Poetry:  Why Thoreau Adored Autumn,” Huffington Post online blog, October 3, 2012

Robert Richardson, in this week’s Huffington Post article, calls Thoreau “our finest writer on autumn.”    He remarks not only on Thoreau’s gorgeous descriptions, but praises even more Thoreau’s amazing powers of perception: “Like Zorba the Greek, Thoreau saw every thing every day as though for the first time. We all walk out into the same multitudinous world, but who among us sees as much as Thoreau did?”

My goal this year is to see autumn with “Thoreau eyes.” It’s a worthy habit to cultivate, I think.

Dappled summer shade — under the maple tree

“And so the root
becomes a trunk
And then a tree
And seeds of trees
And springtime sap
And summer shade
And autumn leaves
And shape of poems
And dreams —
And more than tree.”
— from “For Russell and Rowena Jelliffe,” Uncollected Poems 1961-1967, by Langston Hughes

Time marches on, as evidenced by the slow changes on my “adopted” maple tree.  My photo for this post captured the dappled shade on one of the last days of summer.  The autumn equinox is at 7:49 a.m. tomorrow morning in Seattle.

Leaves and seeds

Watercolor sketch of leaves and seeds showing fall colors

“Nature will bear the closest inspection.  She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.”      — Henry David Thoreau, Journals, October 22, 1839

An insect’s view of a maple leaf

Scrutinizing maple leaves


Nancy Ross Hugo, author of  Seeing Trees:  Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees, suggests this activity for engaging with trees in summer — hold a contest to find the smallest and the largest leaves from a particular kind of tree.  When I tried it, I learned that my “adopted” maple tree does indeed have a wide variety of leaf sizes at any one time.  Interesting!

Maple leaves, big and little

Maple leaves, various sizes from one tree



“No matter how barren the past may have been,
‘T is enough for us now that the leaves are green.”
— James Russell Lowell

The maple’s summer canopy of green

“The first bloom of the year is over.  It is now the season of growth.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Journal, June 1, 1853

Yes, it is summer and it is green, especially with all the rain and cool weather we’ve been having in Seattle.  I thought I’d check up on my “adopted” maple and willow trees to see if I could discover anything new.  And I did notice something unusual — the newest growth, the newest leaves are emerging in reddish-orange, not green as I would have expected.  I wonder why?  It certainly has nothing to do with lack of moisture.

Newest leaves of this maple tree are orange-ish in color.

Even the new leaves of the willow have a yellow-orange tinge.