Trees are like people.
When they thrive, they look better and healthier. When a good moist winter snowpack soaks into the ground, trees thrive with full healthy branches of healthy leaves. When the onset of shorter days and declining temperatures arrive, the green chloroplasts which convert sunlight into sugars die, leaving behind the colors of the nutrients and plant compounds that resulted from the plant’s health. Anthocyanins and other nutrients remain and create a kaleidoscope of color that nourishes our senses in September and October.
This year was a special year as snowpacks were quite heavy and wet and soaked deeply into the soil allowing trees to thrive. The colors were magnificent and gave us a short-lived bounty of color.
During late September and early October, people have figured out that places such as Butterfield and Middle Canyon are amazing for those who don’t want to leave the comfort of their vehicle. Maples thrive on canyon bottoms and add to the yellows of their close cousins the box elders. To get a good close up look at aspens, I always suggest a good vigorous hike to the north facing slopes.
One of my favorite early October hikes involves climbing into the Butterfield Peaks area where north facing slopes shelter some aspen groves well into the month.
During this period of transition, there are still flowers to be found among late blooming asters and large numbers of rabbitbrush. During this amazing time of year, it is not uncommon to have flowers, autumn foliage and snow, all creating interesting color combinations. The weather can also be erratic as the transition from hot to cold weather rarely happens gradually. Ultimately, the cold and snow will creep down the mountains making it harder for mere mortals such as myself to access these places.
Autumn is a time of dramatic change. Gone is the loud bustle of animal life that graced us during warmer times. There is an ominous quiet that fills the hills as deer begin to lie low and the majority of song-birds fly south for the winter. The angle of the sun creates interesting challenges for those of us without expensive camera equipment as shadows lengthen and the sun comes in at you in uncomfortable directions. There are some slopes that will not see an ounce of sun until spring.
There is a certain melancholy that comes to me this time of year. The loss of another year reminds me further of the short length of a mortal life and the realization sets in that the number of autumns I will enjoy is not unlimited. I feel fortunate to have the health to get high enough to see some of the sights I see. Even so, every year, it seems like places become out of reach of my tired old legs. In the autumn of my life, I know that at some point my foliage will fall and the winter of my life will set in. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the color and magic of an amazing year.
David Swan lives on the southeast side of Tooele City with a view of the Oquirrh Mountains.