The Colors of Fall    edniz
   Oct 16, 2003 02:55 PDT 


            The annual display of fall colors has come and gone in the
Southern Tier. It was a bit late this year, but with our first hard frost
on Oct. 4th the entire process accelerated. The peak period was the weekend
of the 11th. There is a hillside behind the school where I work that always
has an impressive display of color. There was one tree that turned a deep
purple very early and it stood out like a beacon. Purple colors is not that
common in these hillsides. I had a chance to track down the specific tree
and I believe that it is a red maple.

            I wanted to share with the group some of the writing of
Nathaniel Parker Willis (1809-1867). He was a New Englander, but spent the
period of 1837 to 1842 in my home county. He is a very important figure in
early American literature although interest in his writing dropped
significantly by the 20th century. Some of his best work was inspired by
the landscape and terrain of Tioga County.

            He published a book called American Scenery in the 1850's. It
includes a number of engravings by William Bartlett. It has one of the most
vivid and flowery descriptions of fall colors that I have ever read. I
wanted to share this with the group [Remember: this was the Romantic era].
He was using this passage to describe the trees around Squawm Lake in New
Hampshire, but it was actually inspired while riding a packet boat up Lake
Cayuga in upstate New York.

Ed Nizalowski

Newark Valley, NY

The Colors of Fall

          "The first severe frost had come, and the miraculous change had
passed upon the leaves which is known only in America. The blood-red sugar
maple, with a leaf brighter and more delicate than a Circassian lip, stood
here and there in the forest like a sultan's standard in a host -- the
solitary and far-seen aristocrat of the wilderness; the birch, with its
spirit-like and amber leaves, ghosts of the departed summer, turned out
along the edges of the woods like a lining of the palest gold; the broad
sycamore and the fan-like catalpa flaunted their saffron foliage in the sun,
spotted with gold like the wings of a lady-bird; the kingly oak, with its
summit shaken bare, still hid its majestic trunk in a drapery of sumptuous
dyes, like a stricken monarch, gathering his robes of state about him, to
die royally in his purple; the tall poplar, with its minaret of silver
leaves, stood blanched like a coward in the dying forest, burthening every
breeze with its complainings; the hickory paled through its enduring green;
the bright berries of the mountain-ash, flushed with a more sanguine glory
in the unobstructed sun; the gaudy tulip-tree, the sybarite of vegetation,
stripped of its golden cups, still drank the intoxicating light of noon-day
in leaves than which the lip of an Indian shell was never more delicately
tinted; the still deeper-dyed vines of the lavish wilderness, perishing with
the noble things whose summer they had shared, outshone them in their
decline, as woman in her death is heavenlier than the being on whom in life
she leaned; and alone and unsympathizing in this universal decay, outlaws
from nature, stood the fir and the hemlock; their frowning and sombre heads
darker and less lovely than ever, in contrast with the death-struck glory of
their companions.

          "The dull colors of English autumnal foliage give you no
conception of this marvellous phenomenon. The change here is gradual; in
America it is the work of a night -- of a single frost!

          "Oh, to have seen the sun set on hills bright in the still green
and lingering summer, and to awake in the morning to a spectacle like this!

          "It is as if a myriad of rainbows were laced through the
tree-tops -- as if the sun-sets of a summer -- gold, purple, and crimson --
had been fused in the alembic of the west, and poured back in a new deluge
of light and colour over the wilderness. It is as if every leaf in these
countless trees had been painted to outflush the tulip -- as if, by some
electric miracle, the dyes of the earth's heart had struck upward, and her
crystals and ores, her sapphires, hyacinths, and rubies, had let forth their
imprisoned colours to mount through the roots of the forests, and, like the
angels that in olden time entered the bodies of the dying, re-animate the
perishing leaves, and revel an hour in their bravery."

Inspired by a ride in a packet boat up Lake Cayuga