In October, the trees are shutting down their solar factories for the winter, and celebrating with a grand show of color. With the last hurrah of fall, the trees are easier to distinguish than in summer when they are clothed in various shades of green. The oaks turn a subdued brown and hold on to their leaves, the birches turn a brilliant yellow, the red maples, unsurprisingly, turn a rich orange red and the sugar maples turn golden. I relish the opportunity to really know the trees in the woods around me during this brief season of color. I seek out the golden sugar maples, by standing at the trunk of each tree, looking up to identify if the gold leaves overhead in fact stem from this trunk, or that of a neighboring tree. When I confirm a tree larger than a foot in diameter is a sugar maple. I mark it with a nail on the south side of the tree, about eye level. Months from now, as the trees gear up for another season of solar energy capturing, I will set taps in these trees and wait for the sap to flow. And as the trees cast off their leaves, I rake the spent solar factories into the woods (avoid blowing or dumping leaves into marshes or lakes, where they will rot and can cause algae blooms) where they will break down and share the sun’s stored energy with the forest once again.
Anne Marie Ruff Grewal is a writer, editor and environmentalist. She serves on the board of the Long Lake Waters Association, and has is the author of Beneath the Same Heaven—a story of love and terrorism.