Monday, 9 November 2015

Autumn colours

It is odd, but I can clearly recall the first song our class was taught when I was a five-year old at Duston C of E Junior School, near Northampton, back in 1943:

                      The autumn winds begin to blow,
                      The trees all wave their branches so,
                      The autumn leaves come tumbling down,
                      Red and golden, yellow and brown.

I've never been able to trace the author and even the Internet seems unable to help, but I vaguely remember looking over my teacher's shoulder at the piano and seeing the name 'Gawthorne' on the music score.  'Gaffer' Gawthorne was our headmaster so perhaps this simple ditty was his work - or his version of several similar songs.

Seventy two years on and this lovely transformation is still a memorable autumn event. Yellows and oranges in small amounts have been present in the leaves throughout the summer but have been masked by the dominant green of chlorophyll. As the late summer daylight decreases the chlorophyll is gradually withdrawn. A little glucose remains and turns red under the influence of lowering temperatures whilst brown hues are the result of waste products being deposited in the leaves. 

But we don't need to concern ourselves with the chemistry behind these changes; we can just marvel. As Thomas Hardy said, in his poem, 'The Last Week in October':

            The trees are undressing, and fling in many places...

I began writing this blog on the last day day of October. Ten days have now elapsed. Ten times I have been poised to set out. Nine times it has started to rain. I began to feel that by the time I was able to get out and about the trees would be virtually naked.

Today I finally got out, even though the sky was grey and the wind blustery. Chris accompanied me, still not confident that I would cope. Sure enough,thick layers of leaves carpeted the ground - food for a host of earthworms over the next few months. My destination was Kentle Wood, but in general the colours proved to be a disappointing range of browns.

Cherry trees had lost their leaves. Kentle Wood,
Daventry, Northants. 9 November, 2015

My main hope had been the cherries but, by and large, they were bare, particularly where the wind had been able to snatch away their leaves.

An old ash tree was also leafless. Kentle Wood.
November 9, 2015

Ash trees were leafless too, with this old specimen (clearly pre-dating the planting of this millennium wood) stark against the leaden sky.

Elsewhere the ash trees bore large bunches of
'keys'. Kentle Wood, Daventry. 9 November, 2015

Rather surprisingly it was devoid of its fruit - the bunches of 'keys' with which we are all familiar- but they were borne profusely on younger trees.

But the leaves of beech were clinging on. Kentle Wood.
9 November, 2015

The generally dull situation was saved by beech trees, whose leaves had taken on lovely golden tints. Unfortunately only a few of these have been planted, perhaps because the beech tree may not really be native to Northamptonshire. The dry leaves of beech often cling on into the following spring, long after the foliage of other species has gone.
The immature catkins are already evident.
Kentle Wood. 9 November, 2015

'But what of hazel?' I hear you cry. This shrub is certainly deciduous but most of the specimens at Kentle Wood were still green and, as the photograph shows, next spring's catkins are already very obvious.

And that was about it: no insects (they were present of course, but in the buffeting wind they were sensibly lying low), no flowers and very few birds. Indeed it may have been a flower free day but...

A rather unexpected Dwarf Mallow grew beside
 the track near Kentle Wood. 9 November, 2015

... shortly after leaving the wood, beside the track which segues into Browns Road, was a rather robust specimen of Dwarf Mallow, Malva neglecta, still bravely flowering but probably in vain. 

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