Have you ever taken a walk at an unexpected time of day or run an unanticipated errand, only to see the sunlight glancing off a brick wall as you’ve never seen it, or catch a dramatic moonrise that you’d have missed if you’d stayed home?
I felt that way earlier this week as I took an early-evening, still-daylight-saving-time walk in and around College Hill Park. Despite the threat of rain, I wanted to yell at everyone to stop fixing supper and come out and look. The turning trees were a kaleidoscope that changed with every turn.
Here was a maple tree whose trunk had been turned black by the rain, heightening the contrast to the fire-engine-red leaves that glowed above it. (“Fire engine” is the most red the leaves can be, right?) You can’t just walk by such trees. You have to stand under them and be engulfed in the color. Sometimes it’s good when no one else is around.
In front of one house skirting the park, small trees on either side of the sidewalk formed a canopy, creating a fairy-tale entry to a scene that blazed despite the drear weather. Cresting a hill I caught sight of an artistic sidewalk in the distance – a band of fallen orange leaves followed by a band of yellow leaves followed by a band of red leaves. It reminded me of streets I’d seen in Italy that had been strewn with flower petals for Corpus Christi processions.
But nature, not people, had painted this composition. Earlier rain had made it stick. I was alternately overwhelmed by the beauty of the leaves on the trees and the beauty of the leaves under the trees.
I was glad that no one was able to be out turning a leaf blower on the masterpieces, scattering their pieces.
This is time for the annual reminder that it’s against city ordinance to blow leaves — or grass clippings or any other yard waste — into the street. They can clog storm drains and pollute water. The tannins in the leaves make the river dark so that the sunlight is blocked, harming aquatic systems. And fertilizers clinging to grass or leaves can cause algae to grow in streams.
My favorite way to deal with leaves is to mulch-mow them in place. Do so often, while you can still see grass peeking through the leaves, Ward Upham of K-State says.
The ones that blow into the garden can act as mulch (as long as moisture can also reach plant roots). You can also rake leaves into great mounds atop areas where you’d like grass or weeds to be smothered out. And, of course, leaves compost over time wherever you put them or wherever they land, making them an essential part of a compost pile. (I’ve pulled the most glorious muck out of uncovered window wells.)
The leaves I was seeing on my walk — some of them in varying stages of color change in one leaf — were worthy of an art project. I was tempted to take some home, but I left them there, along with many photo opportunities, because it was getting dark. We always want to try to capture the ethereal somehow.
The next day I did read about an adult version of the childhood project of pressing leaves. Mary Beth Breckenridge of the Akron Beacon Journal described an idea by blogger Jenni Radosevich of I Spy DIY: Take a beautiful leaf specimen, flatten it by ironing under a piece of waxed paper, then place it between the pieces of glass in a float frame. A group of such frames, perhaps in different sizes, featuring a variety of leaves, makes a nice impact.
As I was writing this, I received a card in the mail from a friend, and tucked inside was a small, pristine maple leaf pressed between a folded sheet of waxed paper.
“I knew I had to share the colorful news with you,” she wrote about discovering some glorious maple trees on South Topeka.
I knew exactly how she felt.
A consistent streak of cool weather, the beginning of November, and a return Saturday night to standard time seem to set the stage for turning over a new leaf. My friend’s thoughtful gesture seems to set the needed tone.
In the fall we’re eager for the days to be just right for holding the leaves on the trees. In the spring we’re eager for the days to warm up so we can get planting and see the green leaves return to brighten the landscape. In between, we have to make up for the lack of leaves with another light.