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The colours of change

Wednesday October 10, 2012

These days I am surrounded by nature’s art and Mother Earth is changing the landscape with incredible colours that she takes from her pallet. The fall colour extravaganza is in full swing up north and vivid yellow, orange, red and green fills the forests. Even though we northerners feel a little sad at the waning of summer our spirits are lifted with joyful colour all through the northland.

A great way to enjoy the colour forest show is to take a road trip from the far north of Ontario to the southern cities over a period of a couple of weeks. Way up north on the James Bay coast I recall yellow being the predominant fall colour as the leaves changed. Of course this was a mix with green and brown in the far north forest where only the poplar provided us with yellow streams of colour on the landscape. Bushes added bits of red here and there and the pine tree green held everything together.

Further south around the North Bay and Sudbury areas in northern Ontario there are more deciduous trees so the colours are more vivid still with a variety of reds, oranges and yellows throughout the forest. Around the Toronto area and most of southern Ontario the colours really explode into splashes of reds, oranges and yellows while the green represented by the conifer trees dissipates.

To really get the most out of this season I suggest spending as much time as possible on waterfront areas where the amazing colours of the forest are expanded by the mirror affect in the reflection on the water. Being out on the land in the autumn of the year is magical and reminds us of just how beautiful our planet is.

It is interesting to know that all these wonderful colours are brought to us by the trees every year merely due to an necessity for survival. Deciduous trees develop their colours because they are heading into hibernation for the winter. It makes more sense for them to stop supplying nutrients to their leaves as there is less sunlight for production of energy and the trees must cope with freezing temperatures. When the trees stop supplying nutrients to the leaves a process occurs where in fact the leaves slowly change colour, die and drop off. The trees expend as little energy as possible to make it through the winter.

Pine trees cope with the environment in a different way. They keep their pine needles because it is too energy expensive for them to shed their foliage. In the north, the summer season is too short for growth so it is more efficient to maintain their green foliage. The cooler year round weather also makes it harder to decompose nutrients into the soil so it is more energy efficient for pines to maintain their health year round.

Amazingly the beautiful spectrum of fall colours are the result of trees killing off their leaves so that they can survive the cold season and come to life again in the spring. That kind of process very much points to my belief that northerners are blessed with changing seasons. The fact that we live through four seasons every year keeps us adaptable, vibrant and makes us strong. Most of us would be lost and bored if we only had one season in the year.

For First Nation people in this country the changing seasons right across Canada has determined our way of life and spirituality. My nomadic ancestors roamed the land as hunters and gatherers and were very close to Mother Earth and nature. The colours of autumn signalled the coming of winter when they could more easily move on the land with snowshoes, dog teams and sleds. The fall colours for my people the James Bay or Mushkego Cree meant that the geese would be flying south and that gave the opportunity to harvest them for our survival. The Canada Goose is in fact a very spiritual part of our culture as we owe much of our survival as a people to this majestic bird.

The fall colours get me very excited and announce the change of seasons. This is a happy time when we should venture out of the house in warm clothes to walk by a lake or river or wander down a forest trail with colours all around us. Better still if possible take a slow road trip through the Canadian heartland to witness the change of seasons.


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