Nature is less rational than most human artists. She mixes colors and patterns with wild abandon, but they always seem to be harmonious. Artists with paint aren’t as talented. Works of art like this can be found on most deciduous trees in autumn. Nature is very prolific. Click the above image to see it larger. The image below is at the full resolution of my camera so it’s not clickable, but it shows more detail.
Click to download this Facebook Cover Image
I cropped a small section of this leaf to create a Facebook Cover Image (right).
This leaf was on the same oak tree as those in the previous post, but it’s character is totally different.
If I only had time to study more subjects in greater depth maybe I could understand the processes involved in the creation of patterns on leaves. Insects, molds, fungi, and other microscopic happenings surely each play a part. Wish I could identify the cause of each beautiful blemish. Instead, I can only admire them for their complex surfaces, but it’s reason enough to photograph them.
Maybe I’m just paying more attention to the oaks because they have retained their leaves longer than the maples, but it seems they are more colorful this year. Perhaps the cold weather without a killing frost to end the show has given them the perfect conditions to strut their stuff.
Bear with me. I have several oak leaf posts planned because I’m intrigued by their patterns. The damage done by insects and microbes makes them all the more interesting. On a couple of warmish nights, I spent at least an hour at the same tree. I could have easily spent more time recording leaf after leaf, but my fingers eventually got too cold to fiddle with the dials as temperatures headed toward overnight lows.
It wasn’t the incredible color on this oak leaf that caught my eye. It was a tiny fuzzy thing attached to it. I don’t have a clue what it is. Maybe it’s an insect’s discarded ectoskeleton or a fungus of some kind. It’s less than a quarter inch in diameter.
The top image is a color gem in my eyes. Click it to see it larger. The various shades of gold are almost luminescent. If you click on the image to the right, you’ll see the whole leaf instead of an enlargement of the close up. This close up is at the full resolution of my camera.
Finding this had a side benefit. Earlier in the evening, I had found a pair of glasses left on a boardwalk railing. While photographing this oak leaf, a stranger walked by. I told him to take a look at this small oddity but he said he couldn’t see it because he had lost his glasses earlier. Had I not brought his attention to this fuzzy thing, he might never have found his glasses.
Below are two symmetrical patterns I created from two shots of this leaf. Clicking them will bring up large images sized to fit desktops up to 1920×1200. You’re welcome to use them as your desktop patterns. Be patient with the downloads. The files are 500-600k each.
The ground under pondside oaks is littered with the tough hulls of acorns. Squirrels move from branch to branch picking the nuts and gnawing through the hard shells to devour the inner core. They drop the shells onto the ground so the sidewalk under the oaks along the millpond trail crunches when you walk on it. Another frequent pond observer told me they saw ducks eating acorns by popping them into their mouths and swallowing them whole. It illustrates the power of their muscular ventriculus (commonly known as the gizzard) to pulverize the shells. They don’t have teeth to chew through hard shells like the squirrels.
Oaks aren’t known for their fall colors, but some of them give the maples a run for their money. Some of the oak species don’t drop all of their leaves until spring, but they don’t retain autumn colors for more than a week or two. Then they become a dull, lifeless brown.
This particular oak near the cemetery boardwalk has more reds than most. Some of the leaves (right) have colors spanning the reds, yellows, and greens. I find this leaf especially interesting due to its colors and patterns from insects or fungal damage. You can download at larger version by clicking on it, but don’t stop there. I’ve also created a Facebook Cover Image and a 1920×1200 Desktop Pattern for you, if you want it.
October 23: The oaks aren’t as dramatic as the maples, but their subtle tones and patterns all seem to fit together well. Some turn to deep burgunday while others like these move into the butterscotch color phase before reaching an oiled cowhide brown. These leaves have sharp tips on the lobes, but I’m unable to identify the species. I have more photos from this same leaf grouping as it ages that I will post soon.
Ah, the oaks. Their autumn colors are subdued compared to most of the other trees, but if you look closely at them, they are rich and deep. They have the sheen of bronze which adds to their metalic appearance.
Many of the oaks retain their leaves for the entire winter and then drop them when the new growth begins in March. Their color will soon become gray-brown and lifeless.
The millpond oaks have lost all of their brighter autumn colors and resemble thin leather with the same polished sheen. As the winter wears on, the reddish tones will fade to grays.
Mighty oaks received the moniker due of their size and stamina, but some varieties have another stalwart trait: Their leaves remain aloft through winter months. That has intrigued me. Botanists call the retention of dead plant matter marcescence. The closely related Beech trees share this trait but their leaves are pale and papery.
Michael Snyder, Chittenden County Forester in Vermont, provides several possible reasons but no definitive answer. After reading his article, I can think of alternatives he doesn’t mention: By retaining leaves, the ground beneath the trees is exposed to more sunlight and probably stays slightly warmer on sunny winter days. Unlike most, oak leaves are tough and leathery. They don’t decompose quickly. They don’t rot until late spring after the ground thaws. Bare ground warms more quickly in spring sun so the growing season might be extended a few days or weeks each year. But the opposite might also be true: Dark fallen leaves might collect winter sunlight and warm the ground beneath their protective layer. The leaf layer would retain heat longer each day than exposed, bare ground. It’s a mystery I’ll never solve.
A botanist could surely explain the process, but I can give an uninformed opinion: It appears this oak leaf was attacked by tiny insects or weather incidents. The chlorophyll migrated toward these wounds as is evident by the green rings around them. As autumn arrived and the chlorophyll began to fade on the entire leaf surface, the orange rings appeared beyond the green ones. It might not be true, but it makes sense to me.
We’ve had calm days. The millpond is smooth. The only ripples are from the stirrings of ducks and muskrats. The turtles, frogs, and insects have vanished. On crisp mornings, mist hovers above it. The glassy surface is dotted with gatherings of leaves, predominantly oak now, in various arrangements as they gradually drift toward the dam where their interactions will be abruptly altered.
My flash illuminates their subtle color variations and unique, yet similar, shapes at night. The gatherings are silent, visual poems the trees have written with their shed handiwork replacing the words.
I’ve posted two photos of the millpond dam recently where it was jammed. Here, an oak leaf is just about to tumble down the waterfall on its way to the Huron River and Lake Erie. I think it’s a beautiful shot, a balance between dark and light neutral tones with lots of texture and just one lone leaf, dead center, adding rich color.
In looking at the upper right corner of the image, I liked the painterly textures. So I cropped out that section and rotated it 90 degrees counter-clockwise. By applying some basic Photoshop filters and changing the colors, I turned it into a digital painting (below) that has a Willem de Kooning messiness that I like. Can you find the exact section of the photo I used? Although it’s not obvious, you can still see some of the waterfall’s ripples and swirls. Click both to see them larger. They’re large enough to use as desktop patterns.
Like the maples, the oaks join the color explosion in autumn, but their colors are more sedate. Their reds never blare, their tans never ignite into garish golds. Instead, the colors simply fade to leathery browns. Some oaks refuse to release their leaves until after the spring thaw. Their dried leaves hold tight and rattle in winter winds.
Above, an oak with half of its leaves still green in the first week of October. Below a mirrored pattern created in Photoshop from a tree farther along in the process. As I’ve previously stated, something wonderful happens when ordered symmetry is introduced into a tangle of leaves and branches.
Some oaks, I don’t know their names, don’t drop all of their leaves in autumn. The dead leaves spend their winters aloft and even storms don’t shake them loose. When spring arrives, those steadfast leaves drop to the ground in a couple of days. A tangle of twigs on the surface of the millpond has caught may of them in this mid-March photo. The flash of my camera brings out their gold color and the dark water enhances their lobed shapes. Note the smattering of bright green specks surrounding them. They are more evident in the larger version. Those specks are tiny plants and you can see some are clusters of four leaves. That’s duckweed in its first bloom, early this year.
At the still point of the turning world. … <snip>
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
— T.S. Eliot
Humans created constellations in the sky to satisfy their need to find order even when none exists. The momentary pause of these leaves suggest notations for an autumn ballet to me.
The millpond bench seats are closely spaced rods so rain doesn’t puddle. but they act like strainers when it comes to oak leaves. You’ve seen one of these benches before and you’ll find them a major prop as Words4It grows.
Note: The format of this blog doesn’t lend itself to vertical images so, when I post one, it will usually be a thumbnail linked to a larger, more detailed image that opens in a new window.
There are thousands of pictures and stories about nature at the Brighton, Michigan millpond. Use the links at the bottom of all pages to see "Older Entries" and "Newer Entries." Use the Search feature (top right corner of all pages) to find specific topics.