The naturalist John Bates, in his Seasonal Guide, tells us about the changing leaf colors at this time of year. He gives the chemical explanation for those who might be interested.
At Ham Lake, the woods begin to show traces of the early browning of some plant leaves, which Bates tells us is because chlorophyll production ceases and the plant’s chemical, tannin, turns a yellow-brown, the appropriate color for the plant if chlorophyll were not being produced.
From where I sit in the Norway pine forests I can see several other autumn colors have appeared, for which I won’t bother you with the fancy chemical names (mostly because I can’t remember then offhand.) However the yellow I recall is caused by the chemical carotene, which we can all remember because it sounds like “carrot.” The yellow color appears on a plant 6 feet to my left, and I see a bright red set of leaves on a small plant 5 feet head.
In the past week we have looked over more closely the wind ravages in a line from Ham Lake up through Nevis. The power of the wind force against trees always amazes me. In some young forests, like poplar, the wind ravaged a wide swath through the woods that left such a tangle of broken tree trunks as would make passage thorough it on foot seemingly impossible except by climbing under and over an endless barrier of fallen trees. It looks quite different from the Hollywood conception of an army marching blithely through a forest of well-spaced trees.
I should not omit the possible action of lightning in this forest damage. However although I have been extremely close to lightning in recent weeks, I have not witnessed lightning damage.
I say “close” because the rural maxim is that you can measure the distance a lightning strike is from you by the time between the thunder clap and lightning crack, and we heard several that were almost simultaneous. But, of course, we weren’t standing at a window at the moment to observe where the lightning was striking behind the cabin. We hadn’t quite that much of Ben Franklin’s love of lightning science.
It is amazing with all this talk of violent windstorms, how motionless the woods are this evening, as if to belie the notion of storms. Even the poplars, with their flat leaf stems that seem to quake almost constantly, are motionless against the small white clouds and blue sky.
I have a small “window” to the sky above me among the white oak leaf branches and the Norway red pines, and I cherish that window for the opportunity to see occasional loons and herons pass over between Ham Lake behind me and Hay Lake a few hundred yards to my left.
A last cloud disappears to the east in my “window”.Stormless silence settles in upon the woods.
James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.