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I think trees are part human

Oct 4, 2012 - By Betty Starks Case

And science says I just might be right

Leaves. They're everywhere and every color these autumn days, hanging like bright red afghans on fences, lighting trees along the road in glowing yellow, peeking through dark pines in the mountains in luscious peach and apricot tones.

We all wonder at the gorgeous color. But why does it all happen? And why does it matter to us?

History seems a good place to start. Doesn't everyone know that Adam and Eve "sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons?" Of course, that was because they realized they were naked and must not allow each other to see their parts. And yet, if Eve was Adam's rib in the first place, weren't they already quite -- um -- attached?

But that's another story. So I'll leave them to their own leaves and declare that I'm a foliage person too, but in a quite different way. I love trees. Any earthly thing that breathes in our carbon dioxide and returns oxygen to our air has to be a gift from heaven to keep us humans alive.

Tom Heald, managing partner of Wyoming Plant Company in Casper and a longtime friend of our plant-loving son and a nephew, says, "One has to know what leaves do to understand why they change color."

Then he explains the process in technical terms my agronomist mate understands. I'm just happy to hear him add that, "Life as we know it would not exist if it weren't for leaves."

I've always felt trees were part human. Now it appears humans are part tree.

Another interesting item caught my eye in Heald's scientific explanation of leaf color. Anthocyanin, a pigment that provides a fiery red leaf color this time of year, is the same potent antioxidant commonly found in red apples, beets, purple grapes and red wine. And orange leaves contain carotene, the same pigment found in carrots and egg yolks.

No one knows for sure why trees fill their dying leaves with these colors so sought after by humans in their foods. So far, it's just another mysterious connection between man and tree.

I'm a leaf gatherer myself, and many have special meaning. I've collected leaves from The White House and the U.S. Treasury grounds in Washington, D.C., and one from poet Robert Frost's grave in Vermont, to name a few.

In Oklahoma, when I looked out my kitchen window to see the creeping construction was about to attack the big hill behind our house and uproot the sycamore trees with their huge, beautiful leaves, I grabbed the phone.

Right in the middle of his business day in the corporate offices of an international company, I moaned to my mate in tears, "They're taking down the sycamores!"

A long silence ensued. Finally, I heard, "Honey, they never were really ours."

Oh. But I'd never seen such foliage before we moved there. I didn't even know it existed.

I ran out and carefully gathered an armload of the awesome 18 x 18-inch leaves.

I got out my oil paints and created a picture on one of them to capture the scene as it had been for years. The memory leaf with little boys climbing the trees, dogs looking up longingly from below, and cardinals perched in the high branches still graces the wall of our bedroom today.

When my family moved to Wyoming in 1938, my mother, thrilled that we had irrigation water, stuck small twigs of golden willows in a row near the house on our homestead. When we drove by that farm not long ago, I noticed the huge old willows still waving their golden leaves, and this poem filled my mind. I call it "Alma's Song."

"On a farm once born of sagebrush, nursed by breasts of mountain snow, a row of golden willows stands, more precious than the brilliant metal panners sought on old South Pass -- sought, and fought and died for.

"Golden giants, nothing more than supple sticks when she pushed them in the ground and bade them grow; now rippling woodsy guardians, where cotton-white and raccoon-eyed, owlets peer from hidden nests in spring.

"The spindling twigs she fed her days are family now; they wave as I pass by; a summer breeze embraces sun-gowned leaves in dance. And I hear the ancient pipe chimes in the elm tree by her door, ring out to laud her passing, and sing her earthly life-song, as heaven weighs the willows' gold."

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