Senescent Saturday

Fall foliage at Secor - Kim Clair Smith

Senescence is the process of deterioration with age. We humans like to deny or ignore it in our own bodies, but we’re huge fans of it in trees. The changing colors of leaves in the fall are a result of senescence. As a natural part of the life of a tree, the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down, revealing the other pigments beneath the green.

Song for Autumn excerptSay what you will about spring and the rebirth it symbolizes, but I’ve always been partial to autumn. The most obvious reason for this attraction is the stunning beauty of the trees draped in splendiferous* robes of gold, red, brown, and orange. But when I’m in a more contemplative state of mind, as I am today, I think of how my appreciation of fall is also driven by the knowledge that it will be so brief. Fans of summer or winter have months to enjoy those seasons, but autumn demands your full attention before it’s gone in the blink of an eye. Or after a day of wind and heavy rain, as we’re having right now in Toledo.

Fall at Secor v2 Kim Clair Smith

I almost let fall slip past me this year, and have only gotten out briefly a couple times so far to take it all in. I fear by tomorrow much of the beauty will be on the ground, leaving us only bare branches to gaze upon for many months.

I’ve traveled to chase birds and dragonflies before, but this is the first time I’ve considered chasing fall. I might take a trip to southern Ohio to get a few more opportunities to capture fall with my camera. It’s a bit challenging up here in the flatlands of northwest Ohio to get interesting angles for landscape photos, but I expect it’ll be quite a different story in the hills down near the Ohio River. I’ll be anxiously watching the weather forecasts to decide if I can manage to fit in a quick trip.

Fence and fall foliage
The rain was just starting to fall as I made this last quick stop at Salamander Flats today. 

Fall foliage with gnome - Kim Clair Smith

Alert readers of this blog will have noticed this little guy before. He seems to show up often when I walk in the woods, and I’m always tickled to see the interesting places he chooses to take his naps. This time he was comfortable on this enormous tulip tree leaf — it was almost twice as big as my hand. I wonder if he’ll show up in the Appalachian foothills of Shawnee State Forest next week?

Gnome on fence - Kim Clair Smith

*Yep, splendiferous is a real word! I had to check, LOL.

Transitions

Fall foliage (1) (640x427)I’ve been spending lots of time outdoors lately, trying to soak up as much of the autumn beauty as possible while it’s still here. The other day I went for a drive in a rural area about 25 miles away and spent a couple hours taking photographs of the pretty scenery. So often I found myself in awe of the stunning beauty — leaves quivering in the breeze with sunlight shining through all shades of golds, reds, and browns. It’s a struggle to come up with words to express how much I love this season. Places that wouldn’t draw a second glance for the rest of the year are magically transformed into art. Just look at the leaves floating on the water in this lake. See how the sunlight was filtering through to the rocks below? It was mesmerizing, with the leaves bobbing up and down on water stirred by a soft breeze, and the light patterns dancing around below.
Leaves floating on water with dappled sunlight and rocks (640x427)
I stumbled upon this little hidden lake and stopped to check for migrating waterfowl. I didn’t see any ducks there, but this view was worth the stop anyway.

Algoe Lake in Ortonville SRA - with fall foliage w sig

I was thrilled to come across a few Sandhill Cranes, and then some sheep sharing their pasture with a curious donkey.
Sandhill Crane on gravel road
Donkey

Sheep through a fence
This road was typical of the scenery all afternoon, just one “feast for the eyes” after another. I’m not ashamed to say that I got teary-eyed more than once as I contemplated all the beauty around me that day. I experience autumn this way every year, with heightened awareness of the cycles of nature as well as appreciation of its beauty.

Curving rural road with fall foliage and sunlight w sig

But this year I can’t help but view autumn through a more personal lens. Just as the trees must shed their leaves to survive the winter, I had some letting go of my own to do. Just as those dead leaves will nourish the soil that keeps the tree standing, I believe the lessons I learned from the breakup of my marriage will help build a stronger foundation for the rest of my life. And just as new leaves will emerge on the trees when conditions are more favorable, it’s my hope that I’ll have a similar rejuvenation after a necessary period of dormancy.

Rural road in Lapeer county with fall foliage w sig

I’m learning to rely on myself and not to fear the unknown. I don’t know what lies ahead for me but I’m ready to start my journey and find out.

You Need Some Vitamin N

That’s Vitamin N as in Nature, and most of us are deficient in it. There have been lots of books and articles written about the health benefits of ecotherapy lately, but many of them are supported primarily by anecdotal evidence and sloppy research. But now we have proof that time spent outdoors is essential for mental health and positive patterns of social functioning, based on rigorous research conducted by Frances Kuo at the University of Illinois. She says, In greener settings, we find that people are more generous and more sociable. We find stronger neighborhood social ties and greater sense of community, more mutual trust and willingness to help others…. In less green environments, we find higher rates of aggression, violence, violent crime, and property crime — even after controlling for income and other differences. We also find more evidence of loneliness and more individuals reporting inadequate social support.”

I encourage you to follow the link above to read more about the study. If that doesn’t make you go outside, I don’t know what will! In fact, as I was gathering info for this article I had an urgent impulse to take a walk around our woods. So I did. And it felt gooood.

I’ve also been reading The Nature Principle, by Richard Louv, and find myself highlighting passage after passage for future reference. Did you know that exposure to the natural world can actually increase intelligence for some people? According to Louv, it apparently stimulates “our ability to pay attention, think clearly, and be more creative, even in dense urban neighborhoods.”

I think most creative types will be familiar with the inspiration that can strike during a walk in the woods or a stroll on the shore. I get lots of good ideas when I’m driving on a pretty country road, or even in the shower (I consider that “nature-like” since I’m in the water….). Other studies cited in this book (done by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan) suggest “that nature simultaneously calms and focuses the mind, and at the same time offers a state that transcends relaxation, allowing the mind to detect patterns that it would otherwise miss.”

I just found another book on this subject that sounds pretty good: Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. I’ve just ordered it and will let you know what I think after I’ve had a chance to read it. In the meantime, here are a couple of my recent “therapy pics.” Enjoy!