Trees painted with the palette of nature

Maswood Alam Khan
The first time in my childhood when I stood in awe of the nature’s wonders was a wintry morning as with my eyes, big and round, I was watching at the butterflies that were dancing like multicolored kites flying around me and showing off their acrobatic feats in the air, sometimes hovering on one point and the next moment in frenetic motion pirouetting and orbiting in wide circles—out they all were on their spree to collect nectars from the brilliantly yellow marigolds in our garden in Sunamganj, Bangladesh, back in 1959.

This time in America I became a child once again. My friend Mokarram was driving his van and sitting on his right I was staring in awe with my roundest ever eyes on both sides of the highway at thousands of saint-like trees dressed like Buddhist monks wearing their orange robes.

“Wow, the trees were green only the other day! Now all are painted in so many hues!” I screamed out. “Why are you so thrilled?” Mokarram asked. “I am now a child. I don’t know how to express my feelings of excitement at the new tapestry of nature my eyes are meeting for the first time. Will you please stop somewhere for me to collect a few colored leaves, particularly those orange ones that are almost red?” I appealed. “You know, Maswood. You are enjoying the sight of colorful trees while the trees are now passing their dreadful time; they are seething in pain and forsaking their leaves that are in the process of dying before falling. Death is also beautiful, isn’t it?” Mokarram mused while helping me pick some red leaves plucked from a tree.

Nature takes one last fling before retiring into winter’s sleep. With the length of days decreasing and that of nights increasing and temperature becoming crispier, the quiet green palette of summer foliage gradually transforms into the vivid autumn palette of breathtaking shades of colors—reds, oranges, golds, and browns—before the leaves fall off the trees and shrubs.

I googled in the internet to unfurl the mystery of trees changing their colors and felt sad to learn that it was chemistry, not poetry. In fact, a chemical called chlorophyll gives leaves their basic green color while other chemicals like carotenoid and anthocyanin produce yellow, orange, and brown colors in familiar things such as carrots, daffodils, bananas, cranberries, red apples, blueberries and strawberries. As night length increases in the autumn, chlorophyll production slows down and then stops and eventually all the chlorophylls are destroyed. The carotenoids and anthocyanins that are present in the leaf are then unmasked and show their colors.

The kaleidoscopic behavior of nature flaunting oak trees turning red, brown, or russet and hickories turning golden bronze, dogwood turning purplish red and sourwood turning crimson ended by the end of November giving way to a queer panorama I never saw in my life: all trees are completely shorn of their leaves. Only a few toughened trees like rubber plants, pines, cedars, firs—known as evergreens—could still maintain their greenery, thanks to their needle-like foliage which is covered with a wax coating heavy enough to withstand the severity of winter.

On December the 7th, as I was passing by the same highway in a car my friend was driving, where in October I had felt cool with genial breezes touching my body and sensed a serenity with the green trees around, where in November I screamed in ecstasy at the sight of trees painted orange, yellow and red, I felt like crying to see only the skeletons of the trees. No leaf, no flower, no bird perched on any branch of any tree. Is December then nature’s funeral month?

Humans are very obstinate species on Earth. They can’t accept defeat; they try to find some sort of victory in defeat, some sort of warmth in chills, some sort of beauties in cruelties, some sort of glories even in death. Guessing my heart was down at the plight of the trees and I was a bit helpless in the chilly weather I am not quite used to a 70-year old American named Charles with whom I just got introduced in a thrift shop said: “Come on, baby. You have not yet seen the beauty of nature in America. Wait for a while. Let there be snowfalls. See how snowflakes fly and touch your eyes! And then come and tell me you are still glum or not!”

Maswood Alam Khan
From Maryland, USA
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