Lileks: Are drab leaf colors really the most disappointing thing about fall?

October 12, 2018

We wouldnt love autumn so much if the leaves didnt turn, but screamed for three weeks then fell off all at once.

Granted, the day they stopped screaming would be nice, and it would be a sure sign winter had begun. People would bet on the day the screaming would stop. Wed have learned long ago just to talk a bit louder.

This years leaves, were told, wont be so vivid. Too much rain, but thats good; the farmers need it, as we like to say to flaunt our connection to the People of the Soil. Actually, they dont, but we feel good saying it: Im the sort of person who has the farmers in mind.

Anyway, you need dry weather to get good colors, and were told this year will disappoint. Drat, I guess, you say, but its not as if anyone really notices these things year to year.

Wrong! Why, just the other day I was thinking about 2007s leaves.

Around 3 p.m. on Sept. 19th of that year, I detected a slight alteration in the hue of a yew, and I knew that the show was about to begin. In the next three days, the tips of the leaves on the birches began to look a tad wan, as I remarked to my neighbor, who is also named Tad Wan.

What do you think? I said. Ill wager the oaks develop a russet border by the first of October, the ash have the light-amber tint of smokers teeth and the elms have gone from verdant to the slight pale green of a man who just realized the shrimp he had for lunch was bad.

No, said Tad. I think were looking at a year like 1986, when the sugar maples became fully involved before the honey maples, like two old married people whove had this argument a hundred times before.

By cracky, I said, knocking my pipe against the fence post, you might be right. But it would be nothing like the leaves of ought-six. Remember? The elms didnt turn until 6:37 p.m. on Oct. 24th, and their brilliant green was a stunning counterpoint to the vistas of brown and yellow.

Ought-seven, Tad said, reproachfully.

Ought-six, I said, knocking my pipe against his head.

Perhaps there are people like that. Most of us have three phases: 1. Oh, the leaves are starting to turn. Pretty! 2. Hmm, theyre all brown. 3. Well, theyre gone. In a week itll be dark at 4:54 p.m. Why do I live here?

Because itll get green again. Thats why. But right now, thats a long ways away. One of our ornamental firs decided to die last week, and I yelled at it: Youre supposed to represent hope through the monochromatic months, man.

Hey, if the trees arent going to scream, someone has to.

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