Last year around this time, as we scuffled through the fallen leaves covering a local park trail, my now-husband Steve recalled an article he’d seen about the process by which leaves change colors. The brilliant orange and yellow and red hues of autumn are always present in the leaves, the article asserted, though we see them only in the fall. In spring and summer they are masked by chlorophyll’s green. As the production of chlorophyll wanes, the bright, varied colors that were always underneath emerge to glow against the steel grays and robin’s egg blues of an October sky. The writer likened this process to the presence of God in everyone, using it as a metaphor for a kind of true spiritual beauty that all possess, even when it’s not readily apparent.
That’s a lovely idea, and the writer mostly got the science correct: carotenoids, the pigments that produce yellow, orange, and brown, are present in leaves year-round and revealed in autumn; the compounds called anthocyanins that make leaves turn red, however, are manufactured in the fall in response to a combination of light and an abundance of sugars. In any case, the process put me in mind of a slightly different metaphor. Continue reading