Daily Prompt: Last Leaf

Today, September 21, is the last full day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the autumnal equinox will walk into our lives tomorrow at 10:29 p.m. EDT, precisely. In the Southern Hemisphere, today is the last full day of winter. It’s a big day for everyone. Pat the globe on the back. Good going, world!

The photo above was taken at around 1:00 p.m. today in upstate New York, where the leaves are just beginning their annual color change. Starting with a deep green, they shift in color to a weak green, then yellow, then a red that I find beggars my attempts to describe it; it is a red I refer to as “fall foliage red,” because I do not run into it elsewhere.

This of course is a global phenomenon and most human beings do not need my poetical-ish endeavors at describing it, but we here in the Northeastern United States have fashioned something of a tourist trap out of this simple natural fact of life. “Come See Biology Happen!” I do not know if other countries with similar climates as ours, usually found at the 42nd parallel north (a line I am just south of), have the “leaf peeper” phenomenon, but around here and in hilly areas north of here (Vermont, especially) by October 1 we will start to see weekend visitors leave their cities and their sidewalk trees or their plowed-over suburban tracts of land with five carefully placed trees per yard that are still only four inches in diameter to come stare at ours and re-remember what hillsides look like. We sell them calendars crammed full of 12 beautiful and glossy photos of the green and red hillsides that they have been looking at and hillsides they have not yet been to, photos they will look at in their cubicles next summer, when they will make plans to visit us again in the fall, so they can buy another calendar.

The circle of life is seen vividly in the changing colors of the leaves and in the annual calendar purchases of the leaf peepers.

People living in every region of the world must take advantage of something natural to attract visitors—the ocean and beaches, a mountain, or a major, powerful river—in the northeast we attract outsiders with something ephemeral, short-lived, yet constant: A season’s change, which takes mere weeks to complete, but it will be here again same time next year. You can plan your trip here with help from The Weather Channel: New York Fall Foliage. (That takes care of today’s public service aspect to the website.)

The red leaves then turn to orange and brown but by then most of them are on the ground, after rain and wind has knocked them off the trees. The leaf peepers do not stay behind and help us rake them up and dispose of them, thus denying themselves the complete autumnal equinox experience. Sad, really. But they must return to their homes and find spots for their 2015 Fall in Vermont calendars.

But we upstate New Yorkers, who live in a region that lacks a colorful nickname despite our colorful autumn—are we Hudson Valley-ites? Hudson Valleyers? Upstaters? Upstites? Catskillers? Upper Delawarians? Mohawk Valleyans? Mohawk Valets?—we remain. Someone is needed to take the photos and craft the calendars and grow the fake pumpkins for the real pumpkin spice lattes. (I held out till last year, when I finally had my first PSL, then I had my second, and on.) Every year, we are the last leaf on the tree.

I’m the last leaf on the tree
The autumn took the rest but they won’t take me
I’m the last leaf on the tree

I fight off the snow
I fight off the hail
Nothing makes me go
I’m like some vestigial tail
I’ll be here through eternity
If you want to know how long
If they cut down this tree
I’ll show up in a song.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 21 asks, “Changing colors, dropping temperatures, pumpkin spice lattes: do these mainstays of Fall fill your heart with warmth—or with dread?”

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Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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