Monday, October 24, 2011

Falling Leaves

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Falling Leaves

In 1982, Dr. Leo Buscalgia published one of my favorite books, THE FALL OF FREDDIE THE LEAF. I’ve read it countless times and always find new revelations for living. In this simply written allegory about the balance between life and death, Dr. Love, as he was sometimes called, touched hearts in a magnificent way.

On the surface, it is a book about the life cycle of a leaf from its early days as a bud to its falling to the ground. It is a splendid tale of the circle of life and its purpose. Freddie and his wise friend Daniel discuss the meaning of life, and thus, explain the life cycle in a simple, loving way.

The book appears to be a children’s book, but the subtitle tells the truth—“A Story of Life for All Ages.” [Below - You can see a couple of beautiful videos that were created of this book.]

Scientists have studied the process of seasonal changes for many years. There are three factors that affect what happens in the fall. The length of night, the weather, and pigments in the leaves work together to create the change. The most unvarying of the factors is the slow lengthening of the night. Other factors including food supply, rainfall, and temperature have greater variation.

All of the factors come together to trigger biochemical processes in the leaf. Three types of pigment, chlorophyll, carotenoids and anthocyanin are responsible for the exact colors each species produces. Even the timing of the color changes varies for different species.

Temperature and moisture are the main influences on the brilliance of the colors that are developed each year. Warm, sunny fall days with cool nights produce the most vibrant autumn colors. A summer drought or a late spring can delay the coloring.

As the veins that carry fluids to the leaves close off, it eventually leads to the separation of the leaves from the tree and they fall. Gradually the leaves decompose and add nutrients to the soil around the tree. They also become food for many soil organisms that are essential for the health of the ecosystem.

Many areas of the country are famous for their breathtaking display of fall color, and the mountains of North Carolina and its Blue Ridge Parkway are among the most visited. If you want to see this year’s predictions about the peak of the color in areas of the state, search

Children enjoy fall activities that involve leaf collecting. Try to gather as many different species as possible. Press the leaves between newspapers and weight them down with books. When they dry, they can be used for making greeting cards or imaginative pictures. Leaf prints using stamp pads and rubbings with a crayon are fun for kids to make. Activities like these encourage kids to appreciate the natural world that surrounds them.

Leo Buscaglia's The Fall of Freddie the Leaf (Videos 1 to 4):

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