By Boak Wiesner
“Leaves were falling, just like embers, in colors red and gold, They set us on fire…” I could sense Roly Sally standing right next to me in the woods today as his words spring to mind. Blustery winds are breaking the leaves off at the petiole, sending yellow towards the ground in helical paths. That shape is so common in Nature – DNA’s structure being only the most famous example. Molecules like proteins and starch come in spirals, and whole plants also circum-nutate as they grow, in ever-widening helices.
I’m surrounded by the suffused gold of Sugar Maples, Ironwoods, Black Ash, among others, hoping that this ethereal yellow light could somehow be “canned”, to be taken out and savored in the dead white of winter.
At the edge of the woods, I find Red Oaks. They’re favorite food of white-tailed deer who eat both its leaves and the acorns, as do turkeys. Since they have to chew them, and they’re hard, food stuffs like this are termed ‘hard mast’. Had we black bears around here, we’d find them eating acorns as fast as they could. Acorns are a very convenient food source, as they cover the ground during the years when a copse of oaks drops them so animals need not travel far for a feast. Last year was one of those, with tons of acorns falling; this year, not so many.
Nutrition, thy name is acorns. Half their calories come as fat, the rest, mostly carbs. It’s easy to see how animals get heavy quickly on a diet of them. They also contain all the amino acids that animals need to make proteins.
Tannins also slow decomposition so oak leaves make a good covering material over gardens for the winter. These days, tannins are also a topic of conversation among oenophiles – wine-lovers – as red wines are aged in oak barrels, and our own state is a leading producer of oak wood for barrels. There are several wineries close by the Arb. Salut!
Boak Wiesner in a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer