It was cold when I stepped out of the house this morning. The temperature was well below freezing, a fact confirmed by patches of ice here and there. Yet, as I walked among the bare trees and the fallen brown leaves, it occurred to me that it is not actually winter yet. Winter won't officially begin until the Winter Solstice, that moment more than two weeks from now when the earth's axial tilt will reach its maximum distance from the sun.
Even though much of the landscape wore a winter look, I could see that some plants were still in the throes of fall. Fall was clearly receding, but was in some spots still holding on. The smoke tree, for example, has become my new favorite in the last week since the giant sugar maple dropped all of its radiant orange leaves. The little smoke tree's slender branches still held most of their leaves, and they flamed red, even if their edges curled downward, as if drawing inward against the cold.
Contributing much less--"but still some--"color to the browning environment were the two corkscrew willows on our place. The leaves clinging here and there to curly, peeling branches had yellowed. But they were an anemic yellow, not a bright autumnal yellow. Providing vestiges of color for a little longer yet, these hangers-on would clearly soon be gone.
The buddleia, or butterfly bush, was keeping its leaves awhile longer too, and also its blossoms, in spite of falling temperatures. But leaves and blossoms alike were clearly the worse for wear. The leaves, now a dark, somber green, drooped. And the blossoms that tipped each branch had become wilted, shrunken versions of their fresh, full, summer selves.
As I walked down the outdoor stairs near the house, a leaf on a step caught my eye. A fallen magnolia leaf, it looked different from any magnolia leaf I'd seen before. Its middle was green, while the rest of the leaf had turned dark. When I picked it up for a closer look, the leaf cracked loose from a thin patch of ice which had held it to the step. The cold weather that followed yesterday's rain must have turned the leaf's wet underside to ice. And that ice, I figured, had frozen the leaf from the outside in.
That little magnolia leaf seems to me emblematic of the transition these woods are making from fall to winter. While it is clearly winter for many plants, for others, fall is hanging on just a little longer. --"April Moore