A blog focused on nature, science, environmental topics, and happenings at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident 

Some people like to judge fall’s colors compared to other years. I love what happens every year: the vivid colors, and also the subtle shades as winter approaches. The only constant is leaves dropping everywhere. 

I consider this gradual process a blessing, a final gift from nature before winter. As the final leaves fall I’m ready to fire the wood stove. I’m never ready to shovel snow. 

This process is not gradual for all leafy trees. Ginkgo trees lose their leaves all at once, or nearly so, taking an hour or two, usually on one of the first days of heavy frost. They use a unique chemical process to sever the connection with their leaves. Other trees begin with low, smaller branches and end with those nearest the sun. 

Ginkgo trees are living fossils that shared the earth with Tyrannosaurus Rex. They have no surviving relatives and, because they repel most animals, have little means of propagation. They are dependent on humans to plant and tend. Long thought extinct in the wild, small groves were recently found in Chinese forests. 

Because of their resistance to animals and also urban pollutants, they are often found in cities. They have become a monoculture in some, leading to lack of plant diversity that, in turn, weakens animal and plant diversity. 

They grow in most places in North American except the most southern tips. There are a few in Newton Square. I don’t know if they have dropped their leaves this season. 

While it is good to know that an ancient life form has survived, I am glad that most trees lose their leaves gradually. Think if all our forest lost all their leaves in a few hours. It would seem like a catastrophe.  Our rituals celebrating the change of season from fall to winter would be much different, probably scarier and not for kids. Nature would be viewed as less gentle, more insistent, even cruel. 

Seeing such an abrupt change every year might help humanity understand the urgency of responding to changes in nature, and not waiting until the last leaf falls.

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