October 7, 2012

How and why leaves change color

I enjoy this time of year for a number of reasons. One is just being able to observe the almost miraculous transformation of the green leaves of summer into a stunning panorama of fall color, a transition that never ceases to amaze me.

There are very few places in the world where the colors and textures even come close to those of the Adirondacks and the farm country of northern New York. I don’t think I’ll ever lose my appreciation for it.

I was saying just that to a few friends the other day when the granddaughter of one of them asked, “Why do the leaves change colors?” She added that she really liked the red maple leaves.

It brought me back to a time when my daughters were quite young and one asked me that same question. We pressed the prettiest leaves between the pages of books to preserve them, but other than to say that the colors appeared as the trees were getting ready for winter, I didn’t have an answer.

Native Americans used to tell their children how, soon after the time of creation, a great bear roamed the earth entering villages, frightening people, scaring away game and eating the food the tribes had gathered for winter. Legend says many warriors set out to kill the bear, but none returned.

After many years, the bravest and strongest warriors from several tribes joined to form a hunting party and set out in search of their enemy. They hunted for months, chasing the great bear across the earth. One day the greatest hunter was able to sneak up on the bear and get close enough to put one arrow into his side. The arrow did not kill the bear, but it drew blood. Wounded, the great bear reared up and leaped into the heavens.

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