Monday, November 4, 2013

The Freedom of a Few Readers

Since I deleted my FaceBook account, my readership averages about four visits per post.  Instead of feeling disappointed, I feel liberated!  I do appreciate my four readers—very much—but I can now focus on my writing instead of wasting creative energy feeling self-conscious.  I'll still shape, edit and polish for the purpose of developing my writing abilities, but I'll not be so worried about how the content appeals to the masses.  (By masses I mean the 30-50 readers I had previously. MASSES!)

So I've decided to resurrect some posts I've withheld.

Thanks to you for being one of the four!

Lots of love,

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Trees are All Naked!

“The trees are all naked, Mama!” Berzo shouts with enthusiasm as we drive along.
Carteniods, tannins, anthocyanins,
color these maple, oak and blue berry leaves.

“Yes they are, Berzo. They put on their prettiest dress of the year, then the wind blows it away. Woosh!”

She cracks up at her joke and points out another naked tree.

Why do the colors change? Why do the trees get naked when everything else in nature is bundling up in layers of fur and fat? Why only broadleaf trees? What are leaves good for?

If you too have a curious six-year-old rapid firing these questions, and if you—like me—can't remember your fifth grade science, here are some interesting facts I've collected about autumn leaves.

Why do the colors change?
Cued by the longer hours of darkness and falling temperatures, the veins feeding the leaves withdraw nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and begin to clog the veins where the leaf meets the twig. Chlorophyll production decreases, then stops, causing the leaf to lose its green color. Once the green color has faded, the other colors, already present in the leaf, get their turn in the sunlight. For some oak trees, the tannins in the leaves leave them brown, (the same tannins that flavor wines and spirits store in oak barrels) in maples, it's the carotenoids turn to shine their yellow hues.

The exception is the brilliant reds and purples put on by white oaks, sugar maples and a few other varieties. Those colors are not present in the leaf until after the veins are clogged.  The abandoned chlorophyll continues to produce sugar which reacts with anthocyanidins, producing anthocyanins pigments; which happen to be brilliant pinks, reds and purples.  This is why leaves that get the most sun are often the most brilliant, whereas the more shaded leaves stay pale green longer.  Some leaves even create a sun tan line on another leaf with its shadow.

There are many environmental factors that influence the brilliance of fall leaves, including spring and summer rainfall, and fall temperatures and frost.  A page on Butler.Edu states: "A warm, wet spring, normal summer rainfall, and warm sunny fall days with cool nights produce the most brilliant summer colors."

Why do the trees get naked? 
As mentioned above, longer nights are cooler temperatures are the most influential factors causing the tree to start the abscission layer on each leaf petiole. (Petiole: base of the leaf stem where it is attached to the twig).  Reacting to both factors are essential for the survival of the tree. The leaves are tender and susceptible to freezing, which would endanger the health of the tree. Also by the end of the year the leaves sustain a fair amount of damage from insects, disease, wind, etc.  Once naked, the rest of the tree, heavily armored with bark, is ready for the winter.

Why only broadleaf trees?
Needle and scale leafed trees, i.e. softwoods, have rolled and sealed their leaves up in wax, and their sap acts like antifreeze. By retaining their leaves all year, (except the tamarack which sheds it's needles) they are able to grow even in the short days of winter, which allows them to eventually outpace their broadleaf counterparts.

You can tell when a forested area has recently been disturbed by fire or logging, if there is an abundance of broadleaf trees, (which germinate readily and grow fast, initially) with smaller softwoods like douglas fir and cedars. In another fifty years or so the broadleaf hardwoods will be crowded out by the lofty needled softwoods.

What are leaves good for?
An adult would ask, “What role do fallen leaves play in forest ecology?” But, Boots phrases all ecology questions in this way, "What are ants good for?", "What are slugs good for?"

Fallen leaves enrich the soil as they decompose, essentially providing a fresh layer of compost, small mammals use them in nest construction, like our resident squirrel who has constructed an impressive nest out of leaves, and many insects species eat them. Worms play a big part in composting leaves by dragging them into their burrows, eating them and casting off nutrient rich fertilizer.  Leaves also capture water that might otherwise runoff.  Fallen leaves play a significant role in maintaining that spongy layer of loam on the forest floor.

For Further Reading:

Leaf Color Change:

Wine Tannins

Hardwoods Vs. Softwoods

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Farmer's Market Autumnal Farewell

Today is the final Sunday for our little local Farmer’s Market. Like the leaves on the trees, the vendors have been dropping off one by one since October. Only a few hearty souls are left; all the more vibrant and appreciated for their tenacity.

Small though it is, I love our market. Farmer's Markets are everything that is missing from our modern daily lives: authenticity, craftsmanship, and connections. Connections with the craftsman that create; the faces and names of families that grow our produce. I've never had to coax a proprietor to talk. It flows easily from them, as they radiate pride in their wares. The fruits and vegetables are as good as they get, crunchy and full of flavor, not only because they came from a farm just a bit to the southwest of us, but because I put our money into the calloused hands of those that tended those crops.

The only similarity between the vendors is the rectangular footprint of their stall. Everything else is wonderfully distinct from neighbor to neighbor. One man sells wooden squirrel feeders and the next stall is selling distilled spirits—free samples. Which is next to an incredible bakery that makes spicy biscuits and gravy, and amazing breakfast sandwiches of shaved roast, egg, cheese with tangy sauce on a crusty roll. Another sells eggs, but they're all sold out. A forbidding old man has crates of sweet smelling apples. My favorite place to buy plants starts, Our Little Farm and Nursery, is now selling their produce. The OSU Extension Master Gardener patiently awaits the call for her expertise—don't worry, I'm coming. Another craftsman builds beautiful furniture from old oak fermentation barrels. The aroma from the Kettle Korn lures passer-bys in and the gyro guy fills them up. The wood fired pizza stall is a toasty place to warm up your hands while you wait for your three dollar slice of cheese and pepperoni—hunks, not rounds.

Toddlers squeal and escape from their parents, to be chased down and planted on Dad's shoulders. Dogs wind their leashes around their owner's legs as my girls attempt to pat their heads, while dodging licks and bouncing paws. Delicious smells float on the notes of the band, delighting my senses.

We sample some Ambach beer while chatting with the proprietor about his brewing techniques. My favorite is a variety that he infused with old, fermenting, cherries he found in a cask. The cherry flavor is a subtle afterthought of the rich beer. A flavor that would be impossible to reproduce because of it's whimsical nature.

Our tummies rumble. Today we dine on Gyros, Fetzer Sausages on a stick, and a warm buttered biscuit. Our girls dance in circles to the notes rising and falling from the banjo, loosed by the artist bent over it.

Until next year...