Color Changes

July 16, 2012

When the kids were in elementary school, one form of disciplinary action was to receive color changes. Throughout the day, if caught in mischief or other misdeeds, a strip of construction paper of a certain color would be swapped out for one of a different color. I believe there were five levels, and the final stop--the worst--was black.  To this day, we still joke about color changes.

Today, those words crossed my mind as I drove home from town.  It had nothing to do with anyone's behavior. Instead, I was noticing a seasonal color change that often appears at this time of the year, and that is in the underbrush.  Along the road, I saw bits of yellow and red, as the leaves on the bushes near to the ground begin their progression towards fall.  It's often a bit startling to see this, as it jolts me into thinking that it is too soon--why, summer just started, didn't it?  But then I remember that the calendar says it is mid-July, and I realize that it is like this every year.  Fall still arrives on its usual schedule, and there is no reason to panic.  After all, that wonderful month of August lies ahead, not to mention two more weeks of this onr.  So I calmed down, and admired the color changes in the ferns and other small plants.

Another quite noticeable color came from some balsam and spruce trees.  Last spring, we could see brown needles amongst the green on several of the conifer trees.  It was a widespread situation, as reports came in from the west near Ely, and from the north in Canada.  A radio story identified the culprit as winterburn.  This occurs when it has been a particularly dry fall, and in our case, a winter with little snow.  Combined with an unusual March warm-up (remember, our ice went out on March 24), the trees became stressed enough that several needles died, even while new spring green ones began to pop out.  The word was that most trees would be able to survive this, once the rains began to arrive.

As we all know, rain it did.  We haven't kept a tally of the total, but we are enjoying high water levels like not seen before at this time of the year.  Still, some of the trees didn't seem to make it. And that was what I was seeing when I drove today. Full balsams, standing tall, covered in coppery brown needles.  They were relatively isolated, but still noticeable every several hundred feet or so.  Some had fallen over. Most were surrounded by strong, fully green pines and other spruce and balsam.  I did see one white pine that looked as though it was barely hanging on.  Those trees grow so slowly compared to the balsam. It was sad to see one ailing.

I suppose that this is another way for nature to cull itself. A stand of densely packed trees can result in weakness and disease. For that reason, Greg has been doing some thinning of trees on our property, to help prevent the spread of blister rust. By opening up areas around healthy, vigorous trees, he increases the chances of longterm viability for a few, rather than short term growth, followed by disease and death. I've had a hard time in the past, seeing trees fall by way of a chainsaw, but now I understand the merit in it.  If the trees left behind grow stronger, I'm all for it, as these will be the ones for my grandchildren to see and enjoy.