What Color Is Your Autumn?

Cassia Bicapsularis

Cassia Bicapsularis

As a New England native, I am no stranger to amazing autumn foliage. What we have in the central Texas autumn is quite different, but no less amazing.

It’s been an extraordinary Fall around here. DSC_0161I never had any difficulty finding the Texas autumn beautiful in its own way, with its foliage running more to the bronze and gold than what poet Anne Sexton called the “sour ball colors” of New England. But this year we’ve had the whole sour ball spectrum.

All along the city’s streets, the trees put in place by human hands have thrown down their trumps: crape myrtle, maples, the Bradford pears so beloved by developers and scorned by serious gardeners for their short-lived ways – all are insane with color.

You’ll have to bear with me if some of theseDSC_0158 shots are blurry: autumn brings ferocious wind around here, and I’m not prone to traveling around the ‘hood with my tripod. If I were to insert a sound track, it would be the sound of twelve billion leaves flying through the air to land and rush scritchingly down the pavement. Throw in the occasional empty can hurtling along with its unmistakeable percussion, and that’s what Fall sounds like.

I find the bright colors surrounded by dark greens very dramatic. It’s also a relief to know we’ll have enough foliage throughout the winter to prevent complete existential despair. The live oaks are never totally bare, although they go through stages of looking pretty sorry as they let go of one set of leaves at the last possible moment, just as the new ones are emerging.

Travis and I have been taking some good walksDSC_0163 lately. That mad wind can take a lot of the fun out of a bike ride, so I figure I might as well just hike for an hour. He is very patient as I stop to look up through a sea of yellow toward a dark blue sky; but then I am almost as patient as he sniffs his way through canine bodily fluid messages as dogs are prone to do.

Despite the cheery colors, it seems impossible to avoid the melancholy of autumn altogether. We wake up in darkness, come home from work in darkness, and are forced to deal with mean temperatures. (You know, like fifty degrees and stuff.) There might be two or three days in a row when the sun never makes it out from behind the clouds. It can be depressing.

Then I walk out along the sidewalk gardenDSC_0166 where the purple lantana’s foliage has been darkened by a mild night freeze, and set a gaggle of butterflies lifting off from the last blossoms of the year. The other day I counted at least six different species, almost none of whom would hold still for even a fraction of a second. I left them alone to harvest what sugars they could for their migration.

I’ve read that in our area we don’t really need to take down our hummingbird feeders for the winter; evidently their availability won’t cause any problems with little birds who are supposed to be moving south for the winter.  A Roufous dude came to feed for a few weeks, much to my surprise. He was so shy he wouldn’t go near the feeder if I so much as stood watching inside the kitchen door. Last week a more familiar Broadbilled (I think!) hummer came along – possible one who is in residence throughout the warmer months.

So we have a more gradual transition into DSC_0137winter than our unfortunate neighbors to the north. Could not imagine what it was like not too long ago in upstate New York, with that solid wall of falling snow burying houses up to their second stories. Makes my feet cold just to think about it. I love a snow day (Top Ramen, hot chocolate) as much as the next person, but thirty years in Texas have convinced me that one or two snow days should be followed by a week of short sleeves and sunshine.

As usual, I digress. To return to the local Fall foliage, I want to say it’s been a good thing to wander back into the greenbelt. How people can meander into that enormous expanse all summer without a single thought of all those rattlesnakes is beyond my imagining. Just a few weeks ago a rattler was spied traveling along the sidewalk a few blocks from here, and one neighbor found a young rattler in her living room. Sometimes I think we might as well be in Australia, I tell you.

Me, I wait at least until the nights are chilly and the morning ground unpleasantly cool and damp. I assume all self-respecting cold-blooded creatures will wait for the afternoon sun to roll around before they emerge from their apparently ubiquitous nooks and crannies. Even still, I found myself a little apprehensive over the weekend as Travis and I roamed through the woods; if I had to peel off my sweatshirt, wouldn’t that mean it was sunbathing time for a creature whose place in the ecosystem is essential and yet whose venom causes me to have to kind of respect that makes me want to give them a mile-wide berth?

For the most part, the trees in the greenbelt DSC_0150weren’t put in place by human hands; not recently, anyway. The autumn foliage here runs to yellow: it looks like sunshine streaming down. And now all I can think is soon that golden sunshine will be gone and the world will go monochromatic. Sigh.

Despite what I said a minute ago about my preference for just one or two snow days followed by a week of spring-like conditions, I must admit I do miss walking through the woods during and after a good snow. That unique stillness! If silence could be muffled, it is a muffled silence, so deep you can hear clumps of snow plop to the ground as they fall from bare branches. I do miss that.

Robert Frost goes through my head any time I’m walking through the woods, but especially in these later seasons. I find myself surprised by the absence of low stone walls put in place a hundred years ago.

Evidently you can’t get all the New England out of a person, even one who’s now spent half her life in a very different landscape.


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