I am awestruck every fall with the beautiful colors of the leaves as the shortened daylight brings a steady march of change into winter. There is a wonderful mixture of colors in the variety of the plants along the shore. There are the brilliant reds, oranges and yellows of the maples. The sumacs form mounds of brilliant red to orange splashes of color. The blueberry bushes and black gum have a deep red to burgundy color that is often highlighted by the yellow and golds of the birches, poplars and sassafras that surround them in the sandy, acidic soils of the shoreline. It is no wonder that many admirers take time to go on “color tours” when the trees are at their peak colors. In fact, the tourist industry gets a huge boost at this time with many out of state travelers coming to the Great Lakes region to view the display.
The biology and chemistry behind the changing of the leaves into so many different colors is very interesting. During the growing season water and nutrients flow into the leaves from the roots. There they are combined with carbon dioxide to produce sugars through the process of photosynthesis where the energy of the sun is harnessed to accomplish that change. The green pigment in leaves, called chlorophyll, is used to absorb the energy of the sunlight and drive this process. When the temperature is warm and daylight hours are long, chlorophyll is in such high production that its green color overwhelms the other pigments that are in the leaf. When the shorter days are cool temperatures of fall arrive, changes in the plant reduce the production of chlorophyll so that the other pigments like carotene (responsible for the yellows) and anthcyanins (responsible for the reds) are revealed in the leaves. They were there all the time, but were hidden by the bright green of the chlorophyll.
The variety and brightness of the colors is greatly influenced by the weather. Low temperatures above freezing destroys the green chlorophyll and increases the other pigments. Bright sunshine does the same thing in the fall season. Also, dry weather increases sugar production in the sap which also intensifies the other pigments. To combine it all, the brightest and most intense colors are when dry weather is combined with sunny days and cool nights. The result is the fantastic display of color we enjoy in the fall. Our senses can hardly drink it all in. Just to picture it in my minds eye, I smell the musty scent of the dry leave and hear them rustle in the wind and under my feet as I walk. The beautiful intensifies until, suddenly, it is done. A rain the night before can strip the trees bare before morning.
Have you ever considered that the colors of the trees of the forest are a wonderful sermon about salvation spoken by the Great Creator. The gold of the maples, sassafras, beeches, and birch tell of His holiness before which no sinner can stand. The orange of t he maples and sumacs speak of the fire of hell to which man is condemned in his sin. The blackness of the wet trunks of the trees after a fall rain tells of the darkness of sin apart from God. The red of the maples and black gums speak of the blood of the Savior which He poured out on the cross to pay the price of sin before God. The white blanket of the first wet snow that covers the trees before they have lost their leaves proclaims that cleanliness of a soul that has been redeemed. The beautiful silver bark of the beech tree teaches us that the child of God must be purified through trials like silver is tried by the fire. And, finally, the green reminds us of the outpouring of blessings on us as we rest in the pastures of His love.
Indeed, all things sing the praises of our great God for all the wonders He has wrought!
God with such beauty His forest doth dress,
The colors His greatness and goodness confess.
Gold covered birches His holiness declare,
The white bark His purity the saints do share.
The crimson blueberry and black gum do remind,
In His blood alone true forgiveness we find.
The orange of the sumac and maple do show,
Sinners the fire God’s wrath surely know.
The purple of the plum His royalty displays,
A King of His people He sovereignty saves.
The rolling hills with verdure are clad,
As blessings continually make our hearts glad.
The silver beech speaks of the saint who is tried,
As by fire from the dross the silver is purified.
Each breath inhaled in amazement of praise,
As forest color a song of wonder displays.
The forest in manifold color cries out,
The seasons continue till He comes with a shout.
His own, redeemed, with their hope fixed above.
In the fall see His handiwork expressing His love.
Lord, open my eyes to the beauty all around,
To the colors as pictures of salvation are found.
Deane Wassink, September 2002