Fall Colors

The leaves on the flowerbed apple tree were dull green. All leaves on the lilac bushes along the red barn were missing. A cool breeze gently tugged at the hem of my shirt as if to remind me of why I stood on the deck outside the backdoor. Fall was further along than I had thought.

In July and August, when everything was lushly green and growing, the summer’s heat and mosquitos had kept me indoors. I’d told my daughters, “Come September, the nights will be cooler and the days more pleasant. I’ll go outside more, then.”

The maple tree Arnie had planted along the road was still bright green. Through its branches, I spotted the red leaves of sumac growing on the lower end of my yard. I wanted a closer look. Walking toward them, I studied the grove, reflecting, “Sumac are slow to put on their leaves in the spring, but are the first to turn red in the fall.”

Although I estimated the sumac grove to only be between fifteen and twenty years old, some of the trees had already died. Others looked dead at the bottom with sparse leaves on their very top branches. Healthy, young sumac grew vibrantly nearby. I decided to cut the dead trees down to make way for them. The dead trunks were small enough for my lady-sized chainsaw.

Turning to inspect the flowerbed along the driveway, I was happy to see the new fencing around the hydrangea was helping. With the deer unable to nibble on their branches, many pink blossoms were forming and finally opening.

Flowering weeds and flowers competed in the flowerbed under the kitchen windows. Pink morning glories, present when I moved in forty years ago, snaked through and around every other flower, pausing every so often to form a bright pink, Victrola-horn-shaped flower.

For years I had tried to discourage the weed-like morning glories from growing. I had pulled up every sprout I saw. I marveled at their tenacity and the sheer number of viable morning glory seeds in the soil even after all these years. Undaunted by my efforts, the weed-flowers appeared to not only be back, but spewing out a new generation of seeds.

The apple tree behind the hoop building garden always puts out a generous crop of apples each fall. But not this year. A late frost while the blossoms were at a critical stage this spring had cut my crop down to a fraction of other years. Staring up into the tree, I spotted a few apples that had been peck-damaged by the birds.

As I walked past the bare-limbed lilac I noticed that one of the lower branches was flowering. Looking closer, I realized several branches sported blossoms. Lilacs are not supposed to blossom in the fall. What was going on?

Having spent so much time indoors this summer, I have a good relationship with Mr. Google. I went to consult him about this malfunction of nature. Mr. Google told me that lilacs blooming in the fall didn’t mean the end of the world was imminent. He said the lilacs weren’t stupid, that they were just confused. The hot summer and cool fall rains tricked them into thinking it was spring.

That evening I told my daughter Tammie about the lilacs, “I’ve just realized that the length of days in May when lilacs are supposed to blossom, is the same as they are right now!”

“No wonder they’re mixed up.” Tammie sympathized. “But purple is a nice fall color. Think purple mums and purple asters.”

I shot back, “Purple is a nice fall color, but I feel sorry for those poor, deranged lilacs. What’re they going to think when winter comes?”

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