Friday, November 9, 2012

The Last Leaf

I love fall in Oregon.  It is long and lingering---a full three-month display of scenery so vivid and rich it almost takes your breath away.

When I lived in Canada I loved fall too.  But an Alberta autumn is a quick burst of bright then a glorious gasp for life as it succumbs to the deathgrip of winter.  I remember feeling almost sorry for the bare branches exposed to the bitter winter wind that stripped them of their leaves, and I would wish for snow to come and cover the hard, brown ground and twiggy trees with a soft blanket of white fluff.

Here, our trees are in various stages of undress.  Some trees are completely naked while others are half-dressed, clinging to a see-through negligee of lacy leaves.  Still others are at their peak, flashy in their bright yellow and vivid orange costumes.  And we even have the determinedly green tree with no sign of giving in to the inevitable change of season.

There is nothing like the riot of fall color...showy shades of yellow, orange, red, crimson and even purple that overlap and layer each other in a palette that painters and photographers have tried to reproduce for ages.  But there are hidden treasures behind all that show...treasures that aren't revealed until the gorgeous exterior is stripped away, exposing nature's shy and quiet beauty that is often missed and greatly unappreciated.  (There's a message you see it?  Another hidden treasure!)

The first treasure I noticed was just outside my door.  I walked outside yesterday morning, facing the tree in front of our house, newly stripped of its leaves, and saw a bird's nest high in the branches.  I never knew there was a bird's nest there.  All summer a mama bird had nested and raised her young under the protective coverage of thick green leaves.  Now her babies were grown and her home abandoned as she flew south for retirement.  (And yet another hidden message!)

Then two treasures I think are truly beautiful in the dead of winter have just this week shown themselves...lichen and mistletoe.  The intricacy of lichen fascinates me.  In the winter, instead of flowers I make arrangements of bare branches covered in nubby lichen in shades of pale to deep green.  And related to lichen (which is really a combination of algae and fungi!), is mistletoe.  Since it rarely snows in Oregon, I am happy that we have evergreen trees, holly, ivy and mistletoe to make it feel like Christmas.  Mistletoe is actually not good for trees, as it feeds off them (lichen does not).  It grows profusely here in oak trees.  You can see mistletoe once all the oak leaves fall.  It looks like pom-poms on the branches.  The method for harvesting mistletoe?  Shooting it out of the tree with a shotgun.  Honestly!  My son and some friends actually spent a few days "harvesting" mistletoe, which they then bundled with red ribbon and sold so people could kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas!  Besides the cost of bullets and cheap red ribbon, it was a pure-profit endeavor...and a lot of fun! (Don't all boys like to shoot things out of trees?  And shooting mistletoe is a good sucks the life out the tree and it's not a bird or a squirrel!)


Of course, once the leaves fall, apples and berries are very easy to see and therefore pick.  Because we rarely get frost this early, the apples are still good for the eating!

And here was a surprise!  Jeff and I went for a walk today, and I had planned to take pictures of the lichen, mistletoe and apples, but, lo and behold, this is what we found in the fescue around the golf course...

Golf balls hidden all summer long by the thick green grasses, now exposed and ours for the taking!  Jeff's pockets were loaded with over 30 balls...we even had to leave some behind!  So you see, there really is treasure after the last leaf falls!

Now go find yours!


  1. Karyn, I enjoyed your blog so much this morning. What a nice way to start my day. I should have brought my coffee in here, but it is only 4:00 a.m. Got up at 3:30...thinking of all I am going to be doing today.
    I chuckled reading about the mistletoe. I thought about sharing this with Hap, but changed my mind. His son does almost EVERYTHING that Hap does, so maybe a couple years down the road.
    So many treasures..for sure. They beauty of your pictures fit so well. I LOVE this last one.
    And I love you. Thank you again, for your insight to nature.

  2. Great post. I heartily agree. I love the secret treasures to be found after the last leaf falls. I miss Oregon autumns; I miss the mistletoe and lichen, too. I forgot about the lichen, but the kids enjoy hearing me tell about mistletoe and how it is harvested. :-)