Remarkable Fall Foliage

Have you noticed the fragrance of fall in the air? The lovely rains we enjoyed activated sure-fire scents of earth and rain. Then, cool evenings, coupled with toasty-warm afternoons, commenced to create a sensory canvas of aroma emanating from gold-ripened grass mingled with decomposing leaves. With all of these scent-sations to enjoy, I wondered just how many smells the human nose can detect. Somehow, the number 10,000 has made its way around the internet. However, according to Dr. Avery Gilbert whose career involves nosing around in odor and who has a book out called “What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life,” he advises us that the number is incorrect. Gilbert states that the figure bears no scientific proof and was invented by a chemist back in 1927. It is unclear just how many smells a human can detect.

To some, the autumnal equinox signals a descent into darkness and cold and may even be off-putting. Others enjoy the transition of the summer season into winter and its complementary kaleidoscope of color nearly anywhere you look. Fall’s food choices morph into those with the spicy scents of cinnamon and pumpkin, while tangy harvest soups and warm breads may lure you indoors. While sauntering in the woods, the pleasant, pungent rot of decaying vegetation further signifies the seasonal transition. Along with scent, the landscape is alive with the pop of crimson, wine-colored, and yellow foliage to enhance your time outdoors. Spent leaves float to earth like feathers, resulting in bare limbs that allow for an amplified outlook across the rises and valleys in Lake County. Fallen leaves in the creek mirror themselves; their cheery brightness reflecting as though shining from below.

The science behind the autumnal color palette entails a complicated choreography of chlorophyll, carotenoids, and weather. Warm autumn days, coupled with their brisk nights, create a silent series of events within the leaves. Sugars are produced at daylight, becoming trapped in leaf veins that are not permitted to move out, which then cause the burgundy and red colors we’ve come to love. These are called anthocyanin pigments. There are also carotenoids contained in the leaves that create the flashy golden shades that we also enjoy each fall season.

Now is the time to enjoy the vegetal, organic wild season of fall and reconnect to its myriad scents and sensations. Include some vineyard-viewing (and wine tasting!) this season for an additional option of fall fun. Each vineyard’s varietals provide their own calendar of timely leaf color. The fall season can be called our Goldilocks season since it is not too hot, nor is it too cold, but juuust right!

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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