Ephemeral, Fleeting Fall

By Boak Wiesner

The figure of the beekeeper at the entry was certainly an apt visual metaphor today as the place was a-buzz with activity. Bulbs are going to ground to get vernalized, visitors are stunned by the golden light suffusing thorough the woods, and I’m held spellbound by the radiance of fall.

For me, coming upon a path, or a road, in a yellow wood, well, it’s pretty much de rigueur to hear Robert Frost in my head; his famous poem is sad, though, in that he was chiding a friend who went down the path to a normal life while Frost himself had chosen that of a poet. Me, “being but one traveler, long I stood,” in an attempt to incorporate this golden air into my own being.


Yellow, yellow, yellow – the very air glows with this golden light! That yellow color is the pigment xanthophyll, the role of which is to absorb some of the shorter wavelengths of light, such as ultraviolet, that, being so energetic, may damage the more significant green chlorophyll.

Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum)
Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum)

There’s almost too much spectacular fall beauty around me to take it all in so I’m glad to come across this single fallen leaf caught in the inflorescence of some a Black Snakeroot. What are the chances of this I wonder, but with so many leaves cascading down around me, I guess that it’s not all that rare, but yet wonderful enough to stop me in my tracks as I venture ‘round the Woodland Garden.

Black Snakeroot (Sanicula marilandica)
Black Snakeroot (Sanicula marilandica)

Almost immediately, I come across the same thing, this time the leaf suspended in the frond of a Maidenhair Fern, which, if you read my pieces before, know is my favorite Pterophyte.

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)
Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

More yellow! The brief color time of fall lets me see the delicate vein structure of the pinnately compound Shagbark Hickory. Pinnate means it looks like a feather, and compound because there are several small leaflets making up the whole. All this glorious color lasts for such a short time each year I hate to be indoors for even a minute while this golden light surrounds me and all the other wanderers lucky enough to be out in it.

Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)
Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer


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