Steve Skinner

These days are bittersweet. Days are getting shorter and leaves are already changing colors. September? It's like God is outside waving a big bright flag swishing it in our faces and yelling, “Winter is coming. Better get ready!”

Oh, God. I love the colorful flag. It is also a harbinger of darkness and cold and a reminder of the coming stifling grip of winter.

After last season's miracle, some are predicting a huge snowfall this season. Powder to the waist and face shots galore. I want that, too. I'm all for winter but I'm not in any particular hurry. Slow down.

We are in a little weather bubble up in the Rocky Mountains. It's cool at night. Is it just me or have the days been roasting?

Today, right down the hill in Phoenix, the temperature is predicted to hit 109. Triple digit temperatures have kept those air conditioners humming and those pit stains streaming. Record heat. Again.

How are they dressing for record-breaking broiling temperatures combined with high humidity? Those silly Arizonians probably have a couple of outfits for each day — something loose and flimsy for outside and something neat and ironed for the chilly, air-conditioned indoors.

Sounds like a hell realm.

In the high country we are keeping it relatively cool. Days are getting shorter.

There's a Full Corn Moon on the rise. On Friday, Sept. 13, there will be a cosmic light show. The lit half of the moon will be in full view. This full moon is known as the “corn moon” or “barley moon” because it coincides with the harvest of both of these noble grains (often used to create distilled spirits).

The barley moon will rise into a stir-fry of stars. Barley will be cut, bundled, shocked and set out to dry. (Listen to the song, “John Barleycorn Must Die” and it will suddenly make sense). Plump corn ears with rounded ends and falling silk will be picked and eventually popped. Corn gets picked at the height of freshness, before the kernels get milky with age.

Here on the ground the trees and shrubs have “noticed” the shortening days and are revealing their true colors. Things are getting wild and scenic as cottonwoods, aspens, poplars, scrub oak and maples are poised to put on a show.

I was surprised to learn that some of the orange and yellow color that we see in aspen leaves has been embedded in the flesh all along, hidden by bright green chlorophyll. When the trees stop producing chlorophyll, the leaves reveal their hidden oranges and yellows.

In autumn, maples and other red and purple trees manufacture glucose in their leaves, which brings on the rich color.

Amazingly, just like humans, trees synthesize glucose. Trees use it for food and energy. We use it to maintain life. When we eat, our food is converted to glucose and sent to feed, maintain and repair every cell in the body. We can't live without it, and neither can trees. Glucose is the sweet elixir of life.

Some trees, like the humble aspen, hunker down for the winter. There's not enough water and light for photosynthesis so they drop their leaves and live off their stored glucose reserves.

Aspens know what they are doing. Aspen tree bark is photosynthetic. Aspen trees can keep growing and producing glucose after the leaves have fallen.

Aspen trees quake in the wind this time of year. We have groves of “Populus Tremuloides” otherwise referred to as “quaking aspen” or “trembling aspen.” When you stand in a deep grove of trembling aspens and the afternoon breeze breathes through the canopy, you will understand the name.

As the aspen leaves finish and fall, the quaking becomes a brittle rustle, above and underfoot. Leaves fall off to protect trees from holding too much snow in winter and to give us something soft and crisp to wander through as we perform walking meditations and contemplate life.

Wait, there's more. There is more to the lovely aspen tree than meets the eye. You can't hear it, but most of the action is happening underground. Aspen trees are connected by the roots. Any time a tree falls or a fire roars through a grove, the root superstructure simply sends up clones.

Steve Skinner thinks we should consider moving underground soon. Reach him at nigel@sopris.net.