Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Cloth of Gold

Lunchtime, and the sun is still trying to burn off the morning haze. Slight breeze, russet tones, mushrooms. Smell of woodsmoke and the burnt-sugar tang of leaves on bonfires, like an unattended candyfloss stall.


Distilled down, these are among the ingredients that would yield the essence of the season; a time of year which would be perfect were the days that bit longer. But it’s this very same reduction in daylight hours which plays a crucial part in creating one of the quintessential features of autumn, as the production of chlorophyll slows down in the leaves of deciduous plants and greens fade to rich oranges, yellows and browns. It’s odd to think that these carotenoid pigments are present all year round, but that only now, without the masking effect of the green, do we get to enjoy them in all their glory.

At first, this change takes place in the vertical plane, as trees and shrubs extract those nutrients from the leaves which they will store overwinter in the permanent framework of stem, branches and roots. Then, no longer of use and containing only unwanted sugars and other carbohydrates, the leaves begin to fall, gradually occupying a more horizontal orientation, until the whole world seems carpeted in an opulent tapestry. Reason enough to venture outside – wellie-clad, shuffling through piles of crisp, spent foliage. Or armed with a rake, creating lines and heaps for gathering up and cramming into bags which in twelve months time will contain the best, most crumbly soil conditioner imaginable.

But that is some way off. For now we have leaves to tame. And to steep ourselves in autumn before winter robs the world of its colour.