Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Arrested At Their Prime

Every fall since I realized trees are dying from air pollution, I have tried to post photos that remind people that not so long ago, leaves in autumn used to turn brilliant colors on the branches, and then fall off, and then turn brown.  You could rake them into a crazy kaleidoscopic pile and jump into their softness.  Countless schoolchildren picked up the most perfect samples to preserve in sheets of waxed paper - and they would still be bright and vibrant in color, supple and smooth to the touch, long after they had fallen.
November 12, 2006, Ray Mill Island in the River Thames
near Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
Every year, to a greater and greater extent, they go from green straight to brown while still on the tree, and fall off earlier and earlier with necrotic splotches and edges.  Two years ago, I took this picture of a maple tree in Peapack, because it was the nicest one I could locate around Wit's End and it made me happy to find its joyous plume of flaming orange.
October 11, 2010.

I went back again last week, again on the 11th of this month, to compare.

October 11, 2012.

I already knew that trees this autumn are mere shadows of their former vivid incarnations.
And I knew that the decline that began some years ago has taken a precipitously devastating plunge this year.  An almost terrifying plunge, actually.
Since I took these pictures, we have had frosty mornings - but not before.
These tender annuals grown in pots near the maple were intact, so the maple leaves are not blemished from cold temperatures - and the older leaves on the New Guinea impatiens are not exhibiting symptoms of toxicity from a lack of watering.
The hydrangea leaves have the same pattern - older foliage is damaged by a summer of exposure to air pollution.  This is not the result of long-term drought from climate change.
In fact according to NOAA, the past couple of years have been mostly normal or even seen an increase in precipitation in the Northeast.
I already knew all this and yet collecting pictures for this post has been a most dejecting experience.  Why?  Because after I obtained that terrible image from Peapack I decided to look around on the web and what I found shocked even me - the Diva of Doom! - not so much because the images from this year are so bad - I expected that.  The mistake I made was to look for pictures from the past...and discovered they were even more beautiful than I recalled.  Heartbreakingly beautiful.  After a couple of days cloistered in the house I realized that first picture at the top of this post reminds me so much of my children playing in the autumn when they were little, it makes me want to hug them and cry (I doubt that is something they would wish to encourage).  So I haven't got a whole lot to say today, no science links at all.  Why bother?  Instead I re-photographed the pictures of daughters in autumn that hang in my hallway (hey, it's MY BLOG! - and besides I should be indulged because, according to a comment left by Oliver at DOTE, I have already been awarded an epitaph, prehumously you might say, in a rather august publication I never heard of, to wit:  Gail was known for her drier-than-the-Gobi humor. - Encyclopedia Terra-Termina, 2105 edition), followed by photos in random order, from various places around the world in better years.
 In Paris when Alice was two...1981?
Sophie and her Cavalier King Charles named Snowball, "...because he looks like a snowball with some leaves rolled up in it."
 Youngest daughter Maxine.

October 19, 2007, Mt. Auburn Cemetery
October 22, 2005, Manchester, NH
October 23, 2006, Huvosvolgy, Budapest, Hungary
September 28, 2006, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
October 28, 2006, Mt. Vernon, Washington
November 27, 2006, Avellino, Italy
the long autumn
October 15, 2006, East Lansing, Michigan
October 13, 2006 East Lansing, Michigan
November 9, 2006, West Richland, Washington
October, 2006, Connecticut
November 22, 2006, Tulsa, Oklahoma
April 20, 2006, New Zealand
October 21, 2007, Montreal, Canada
November 2, 2008, Montreal, Canada
Crabapple Wind
October 14, 2008, Niagara, New York
November 4, 2008, Toronto, Canada
October 14, 2008, Niagara, New York
December 8, 2007, Japan
November 8, 2009, Craigellachie, Scotland
November 8, 2009, Craigellachie, Scotland
November 20, 2007, Colts Neck, New Jersey
The following pictures have been taken this year, from around the world.  Of course, there are no doubt still leaves that look fine...somewhere.  The point of this exercise is, first, to demonstrate that the sort of damage I've been posting from New Jersey to Massachusets is also being found - inadvertently - from places as diverse as France, Finland, Iceland and Japan.  Each one is labeled with the date and location.  I've positioned them chronologically, starting in August - and here, it's amazing how many people think "fall is coming early" when what they are really observing is "premature senescence" i.e. early death.  Fall does not begin in August despite what people seem to think when confronted with leaves that have lost the ability to properly photosynthesize!  The second fascinating impression I took away from this collection is how incredibly oblivious the photographers are to the outrageous abnormality of these leaves.  Some of the comments are rather funny, in a sad, pathetic way, so they are appended, where available.  All the way at the very end is a video, Leaf and Death - haha.  Leaf and Death.  It "celebrates the leaves of autumn" however, had I tried my damnedest, I couldn't have picked out better samples of leaves injured by ozone myself.  But then, that's pretty much the only sort around anymore.
August 12, 2012, Tulsa, Oklahoma
August 12, 2012, Kent, England
August 15, 2012, California
Whats happened to the rest of it? it was a youthful full of life tree last pic. What horrors have been perpetrated in your garden Robin? I wish to see "Proof of life"....its not even Autumn (Fall) yet.....lol. 
August 23, 2012, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Wisconsin
Change of Season
Prairie Dock, (Silphium terebinthinaceum)
August 24, 2012, Prescott, Arizona
Fall Comes Early to the High Mountains
August 25, 2012, St. Louis, Missouri
Leaves at the End of a Long Hot Summer
Rusted Leaves.  Cool!  Autumn is just around the bend
September 1, 2012, Toms River, New Jersey
September 2, 2012, Cheshire, England
Norton Priory leaf detail
September 2, 2012, Cheshire, England
Comment:  I love the look and texture of dead and dying and damaged leaves.

Thanks Betty.  You'd have loved this place!
September 2, 2012, Cheshire, England
a leaf that looks like it's made from leather
September 6, 2012, Prescott, Arizona
September 6, 2012, Prescott, Arizona
Halfway There
September 7, 2012, France
oh wow.  gorgeous
September 8, 2012, Gulf Shores, Alabama
You Go First
What a beautiful shot, I love this!
September 8, 2012, Somerset, England
Dying Leaves
I took This Photo at Lydeard Hill Today when I noticed all the Leaves dying on the Trees as,
it is the Start of Autumn
September 22, 2012, Foley, Alabama
It's beginning to look a lot like autumn
October 12, 2012, Foley, Alabama
This last section of photographs was contributed by George, a Wit's End reader who lives in Illinois.  He sees decline in that area of the country and took these pictures at the Waterfall Glenn Forest Preserve on October 8.  He takes pictures of lots of other things, so you should check out his webpage here, especially if you like trains.  Thank you, Eyepilot!

Lastly is the video mentioned earlier, which was posted in the New York Times on the 12th of October.  I don't know when the leaves were collected, but the fact is, that the third week of October  - or later - should be prime foliage, and the leaves shouldn't be looking this beat up until November.  Remember this picture, from all the way up at the Canadian border?  'nuf said.
The text that accompanies the video is steeped in irony, as the author is clearly reciting what he remembers to be true, not what exists - one New York commenter wrote:  "Thanks Jeff, you must live a lot farther north than I do...or those are last years leaves" (but no, Jeff lives in New York City) while another lamented "Michigan's leaves are already going, going, GONE!"....but the music is nice.

After a few cold nights the colors come on like glowing embers. Then they burst into flame. They crackle in flickering reds, yellows and electric greens. They are beautiful and surreal against the infinite blues of a chilly October afternoon sky. Entire landscapes are transformed into a state of agitated Technicolor. It’s nature’s color-coded warning of the approaching longer nights and colder days sneaking up the calendar.

As I walk back and forth to school with my boys, we wind up collecting a lot of spectacular specimens. And as the leaves dry out, the rich shades begin to fade. Like slow-motion fireworks, the colors gradually dim to brown. This led me to photograph them in an attempt to arrest them at their prime.


  1. Those two images comparing the Peapack maple say it all.

    Keep fighting! :)

  2. oh gail, dear gail,
    I read the most stupid articles about what is going on with the trees. So stupid it is useless to send the links. Humanity will go under (is going under)absolutely without knowing what has happened to it. and sooner than later.


Blog Archive

My Blog List

Search This Blog