On the East Slope of the Rockies there is a brief few days of glory when it has been cold enough to kill the chlorophyll in the leaves so that they are all bright yellow. Not many red underpigments in the plants around here unless someone has deliberately planted some, like maples. The bright red and orange leaves are colored by glucose responding to the combination of bright light and cold — sweet!
But on the East Slope there is wind in fall (also in spring, winter and summer). The wide leaves of deciduous trees get ripped off in a hurry. The vaguely round leaves of the aspens blow away in showers too easy to compare to gold coins. The poplars started spinning off single leaves back in August. The ones on the north side of this house will be only branches soon. The big cottonwood on the south side of this house will keep its leaves longer. The truth is that it comes from a different ecology than here and is always slightly out of step — branches too low, too long, trunk too multiple, too inclined to hollow.
Photographers who happen through this time of year are always smitten. But they must make it snappy to capture the color. I took a photo of my neighbors' trees (top), the yellow contrasting nicely with the dark of the blue spruce, which is also not native. In the water-saturated overcast day, the colors are "saturated", though the definition is not the same. Here’s the formal definition of saturated pigment:
“Color saturation refers to the intensity of color in an image. In technical terms, it is the expression of the bandwidth of light from a source. The term hue refers to the color of the image itself, while saturation describes the intensity (purity) of that hue. When color is fully saturated, the color is considered in purest (truest) version. Primary colors red, blue and yellow are considered truest version color as they are fully saturated.
“As the saturation increases, the colors appear to be more pure. As the saturation decreases, the colors appear to be more washed-out or pale.”
A three minute vid
Marshall Noice, a Kalispell painter who took the photographs for Bob Scriver’s self-published high-end art books, turns nature’s phenomena on their heads to wake us up and make us look again. Some might categorize the work as “fauvist” meaning “the wild beasts,” a French art movement maybe responding to oil paint in tubes, a revolutionary idea, rather related to plein aire painting. Color, even as a single raw pigment, is powerful — in juxtaposition it can almost cut the eye. And yet, the opposite art strategy, called tonalist, is used by Russell Chatham, famous for his subtle colors and formal composition. It will soon suit our landscape very well.
Harvest always struggles with these fall rain storms. The heavy heads of grain, now shading from gold to brass to ochre, bend over, evading the blades of machinery. If they touch the ground, they’ll begin to grow again as though it were spring. We’re not likely to have lightning storms with hail now, but a transient snow storm can crush everything. The quality of grain can be compromised and profit depends upon quality as much as quantity.
Animals, including cats, are hyperphagic in fall. The spilled grain feeds the hurrying mice and the cats follow on. People who want all cats confined to houses don’t understand barn cats. Cats do eat birds, too, which take shelter next to the tree trunks a cat can climb instead of out on the waving twigs that drop cats to the ground. The grizzlies have finished with the chokecherries along the creeks now and are thinking of apple trees, which brings them to yards and even into Valier. They don't eat cats; coyotes and domestic dogs eat cats.
Latest Valier bear
In Portland there was a friend who always had an apple cider party this time of year. He had an old machine that the gang would take turns operating while the rest brought in the apples from a nearby old orchard or even from other sources, maybe their own yards or vacant lots. Apples are everywhere in Oregon.
I suggested that idea here and was met with many objections: some of the apples might be diseased, it would be too hard to schedule given the season of sports, powerful families would dominate. Clearly this culture has given up the old co-op model of the prairie, but I’m not sure it took hold here in the first place. It was the product of necessity and in Valier the main necessity was always small grain irrigation and therefore individual water rights controlled by shares.
All my windows are glazed with rain, but I think it’s coming mostly from the north, which means that it’s time to put the plastic sheet slipcover on the garage screen door. It’s a good chance to check the tarps on my roofs and as soon as the poplar leaves are down, I'll dig out the gutters. I’ve diverted some old corrugated metal to patch together on the outbuildings, but never did get it attached. You’ve got to fasten it down securely or it will sail off in the wind and decapitate someone.
This house has no eaves for two reasons. One is that eaves would offer leverage to high winds prying at the roof and the other is that in winter sun will melt snow on the roof, but when it tries to drain the eaves will have a buildup of ice that won't melt because there's no house warming the underside. Some people install a rickrack of electrical heat tape. But water is getting inside the walls of this eaveless house.
In Portland today's weather would be replicated almost every day until Spring. In Oregon this house would rot to the ground, but here on the East Slope we go from bone-dry to tightly frozen with only a few weeks as interval. The animals figure out how to cope. So far only little birds have come through, obeying their migratory strategy. The big V’s of waterfowl haven’t begun yet. In Portland when they came over our neighborhood, we'd all rush outside and begin to sing the Frankie Laine song:
My heart knows what the wild goose knows