BY ANDREW MORKES, AUTHOR OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
Some are still green. Some are a vivid gold, red, yellow, purple, or orange. Some are flying through the air like happy nature parachutists. And some are already on the ground, ready to be rolled in and jumped on, put in scrapbooks, mulched and bagged, or simply left on the ground to enrich the soil. Yes, leaves. Our friends who sprouted from the spectral, bare trees of last winter to tell us once again that the cycle of life continues. (If you live in Chicago, it’s not farfetched to question whether the eternal cycle of life will continue when you suffer through weeks of relentless snow and freezing temperatures.) The leaves are not only beautiful, but they also convert harmful carbon dioxide (with help from the sun) to oxygen. Something to keep in mind as deforestation ravages certain areas of the world.
These leaves have been with us now for 8 or 9 months. We don’t know their names, but we appreciate them for their beauty, functionality, and for simply just being. They slowly grew larger as the days warmed last spring. By summer, they developed into thick canopies that sheltered us from the hot sun. A person sitting under a big oak or sugar maple tree might feel 10 degrees cooler than someone who is out in the open under the blazing hot sun during high summer. The trees watched as we picnicked, played baseball, attended fests, strolled hand in hand, and simply relaxed and enjoyed time with friends and family. Do they like to watch the stars as we do and dream?
The leaves stayed green into early fall, but the shortening days, changes in temperature, and other factors (level of drought, stress, genetic makeup) have slowed, and are now halting, the leaves’ food-making processes. The food-making pigment chlorophyll, which makes leaves green color, is breaking down, and the green that we enjoyed all summer is gradually being replaced by fiery reds, Big Bird yellows, outrageous oranges, and other eye-catching colors. This process is like a 4th of July fireworks show, in which the grand finale is the best part of the show.
Leaf science is fascinating, but I’m more interested in savoring the fine fall days when it’s not raining or windy. There’s something magical about the light at this time of the year. When struck by this softer, less harsh sunlight, even things such as buildings, sidewalks, trees, grass, and the handsome face of my 9-year-old son attain a cinema-tastic glow.
I’m almost 50 years old, and the special sunlight and spectacular leaves still make me happy each fall. A simple, but lasting, happiness that’s easy to generate and retain even while I’m sitting in the house writing this story. Some of my first memories as a child are of playing in piles of crunchy, bright fall leaves in my backyard, and perhaps the leaves remind of those days and others.
Now’s the time to get outside and enjoy the fall colors because autumn is a short-run movie in Chicagoland. Start out in your own neighborhood. Walk to a local park or just around the block. That’s what my son and I did yesterday. We tossed the football around at the park, he enjoyed the playground for a bit, we spotted many trees that were fall color all-stars, looked at Halloween decorations (my son loves this activity), and simply enjoyed each other’s company (I love and treasure my finite time with my not-so-little boy). If you’re feeling motivated, head to a nature center (North Park Village Nature Center, Little Red Schoolhouse, Sand Ridge Nature Center, for example), a botanic garden or arboretum, or a forest preserve (Red Gate Woods, Cap Sauers Holding, Busse Woods. Cook County is one of the most-forested urban counties in the United States, so you won’t be disappointed wherever you visit the Forest Preserves of Cook County or other area forest preserve districts. Check out the This Weekend section of my website for web links to these preserves and more than 100 other nature destinations in Chicagoland.
Get outside to see the last of the flowers and fall foliage! The storms of late autumn are coming. The flowers, green lawns, bright leaves, and occasional blue skies will be replaced by snow and more snow, freezing temps, ashen skies, and a sun that hangs low in the firmament like an unwilling party guest. The next several weeks are your last chance to enjoy the color show of autumn. Catch the movie before it’s replaced by a horror flick called Chicagoland Winter!
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes, Founder & Author of Nature in Chicagoland
Looking for some great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more. The book has 306 pages and 210+ photos and is only $18.99.
Interested in a career in which you can help protect the environment? I frequently write about job opportunities in environmental science, environmental activism, and clean energy in my career newsletter, the CAM Report. Of course, it also offers information on hot careers, the latest on internships and salaries, and interviews with workers–from our nation’s planetary protection officer, to entertainment engineers, to crossword puzzle creators. Click here to read a sample issue and learn more about subscribing.
My College Spotlight newsletter often covers interesting environmental majors. It also provides information on admissions trends, scholarships, and much more. Click here to read a sample issue and learn more about subscribing.
Finally, my book, They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, 3rd Edition, provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. Click on the title to read the table of contents, the introduction, and a sample chapter.
If you like Nature in Chicagoland, please share my blog with your friends and family.