Our usual time for peak fall foliage here in northwest Ohio is mid-October, but the weather surprised us and delayed the much-anticipated colors this year. Feeling impatient, last week I drove a couple hours north into Michigan in search of some autumn scenes to photograph, and couldn’t find much leaf color there either. It was disorienting to see so many still-green trees in late October.
I’d almost given up on looking for it, and had cocooned myself indoors already, cozy with my furnace on and blankets laid out by my favorite chairs. But lo and behold, suddenly we’re at peak color in Toledo! I went out yesterday to document this beautiful season of transition.
This is a spot in Oak Openings Preserve where I always find a lovely fall scene. I like how I can frame the photo so the hiking trail draws your eye into it. Don’t you feel a desire to walk toward that opening in the woods? If you could enter this photo and do that, you’d find a peaceful woodland oasis with a trail thickly cushioned with pine needles, and the occasional rider on horseback passing by with a friendly hello.
Down the road a bit is Mallard Lake with its curving shoreline that frames the colorful reflections of the trees. It was a challenge to get a photo without other people in it, as this is a popular place for people to take pics for engagements, weddings, graduations, or just annual family photos.
I was accompanied on my outing by these two friends, who you’ve seen here occasionally. They always seem so relaxed and happy and I enjoy their pleasant company. They remind me to take a moment to be grateful for this globally significant place full of rare plants and animals, a place designated One of the 200 Last Great Places on Earth by The Nature Conservancy. They took a brief rest at this spot near the Girdham Sand Dunes, remnants of Lake Warren, the precursor to Lake Erie. You can read more about that here.
The dunes are a favorite spot to search for tiger beetles, robber flies, and sand wasps in the summer. I’ve lived here for five years now, and I still get a thrill at the presence of sand on hiking trails this far from the lake. It seems so incongruous, sand in the middle of the woods. But there it is.
I walked around the dunes for a bit, studying the amazing diversity of mosses, lichens and fungi. I can identify very few of them but that doesn’t stop me from admiring them. My gnome friend found this tiny puffball mushroom for me.
And then I found the British soldier lichen a few steps away.
And since I’ve mentioned gratitude, it occurs to me that one of the reasons I love fall is because it doesn’t last very long. Well, the season lasts for a while but the visual feast of leaf color is painfully brief. There’s a point each year when the rain or wind will come and ruin the show virtually overnight. Then there’s that day when I feel the burden of a long dark winter descend abruptly onto my shoulders.
That’s being overly dramatic, I know. Winter isn’t always awful, but it’s definitely my least favorite time of year. I much prefer to be outside watching insects feasting on my native plants. Speaking of insects, I found a few still out today despite the cold temperatures. There was a small cluster of some kind of larvae crawling around on a bed of bright green moss and then a lacewing resting on a brown oak leaf. The surprise discovery was a southern yellowjacket who crawled out from under the leaf litter as I was sitting on the ground looking at mosses. The yellowjacket was very lethargic, probably dying. I quickly took a couple documentation photos and then covered him back up with leaves.
On the way home I stopped for a bit at another of our beautiful metroparks, and spent some time gathering a collection of leaves from various trees. The predominant leaf color this year seems to be yellow, with just enough orange and red mixed in to make everything pop. As I walked on the edge of the road picking up leaves, I had a flashback to the annual rite of childhood when we pressed leaves between sheets of waxed paper. In this photo you’ll notice leaves from tulip, maple, oak, sassafras, and elm. The trio in the bottom left corner are all from sassafras trees, which can have three differently-shaped leaves on the same tree. That’s such a cool thing, isn’t it?
They’re usually called (from left to right) the “football,” the “mitten,” and the “ghost.” And I’ve just learned another interesting thing about those leaves. The distribution of those three leaf types on a tree isn’t random. “Two and three lobed leaves are more abundant than un-lobed leaves on the lower portions of the crowns of small trees and on the lower sides of the primary branches. Vertical branches tend to have all three leaf shapes equally present. It has been hypothesized that the leaves in the lower branches accumulate starches to a greater degree than upper leaves. These starches are known to inhibit cell division in leaves which can then cause a lobe to form.” (Source)
Since it was Halloween, I gathered some extras of the “ghost” leaves, and I couldn’t resist having some fun with them.
These two parks are my favorites for fall foliage photos because of their winding roads through the trees. Most of the roads around here are as straight as an arrow, and that doesn’t often make for interesting scenery. I’ll leave you (get it?) with this image from Secor Metropark.