Ancient History

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It’s time to shine, anthocyanins!

Let’s do this, xanthophyll! The chemistry behind fall’s gorgeous display of colors is fascinating and complex. The unique chemical composition of differing tree species, coupled with environmental conditions, determines if a tree will turn red, orange, yellow, purple, or brown. Chlorophyll, which makes leaves green in summer, begins to wane. This allows the color chemicals to ramp up production.

If only the colors changed because a giant invisible squirrel fairy’s paint pots were knocked over by her lush, proud tail.

Or, maybe an Owl King’s pizza party got severely out of hand? Some marinara there, some roma tomatoes there, golden crust here, some spicy brown sausage yonder. What a charming mess.

Here in Colorado, our leaves are predominantly yellow in the fall. The mountains are carpeted with aspen trees, light on the anthocyanins. Perhaps their color mirrors the gold still buried deep, deep down? It’s so bright, it wheezes up through granite and marble and rhodochrosite.

I want to press the owl’s pizza between sheets of waxed paper. I want to dab a brush into my backyard aspens and paint a golden scene.

How can the beginning of the end of the year feel so fresh?

Teddy, who is in kindergarten, is learning about seasons. Yesterday, he was surprised he didn’t wake to a red, orange, and yellow world. He learned in fall, the leaves change. Teddy has demonstrated this remarkable fact through paintings, coloring, and breathless descriptions of how he’s so gonna jump in all those orange and red leafs!

He’s newly five and never gave much thought to the changes we see throughout the year. He was certain these things happen in an instant. BOOM. Fall. I had to explain it takes time, but that means we will get to have more fun. Every day on the drive to school, the trees we see are less green, more yellow or orange. Look.


Nature gets to show itself the door. Trust it to be beautiful, always and in its own time. When winter comes, you’ll be able to recognize the beauty in the clacking bones, the cold, the silence, the hard ground that houses a seed or thousand.

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