The Miracle of Nature as Fall comes to Marin County

The Miracle of Nature as Fall comes to Marin County

What a year for dramatic fall colors in Marin County!!

Was it only my friend Mila and I who noticed the leaves changing color this fall?

We saw spectacular colored leaf displays as the aspens, cypress and especially the maple trees growing on  the sidewalks.The neighborhood gardens demanded our attention with brilliant displays of color. It was as if they were all calling out:  “Look at me” as they paraded their finest leaf coloring like party clothes, trying to outdo each other.

One September, many years ago, my Sister Stella and I, neither of us being resident in the United States, arranged to meet in Boston and travel to New Hampshire and Vermont  to go “leaf peeking’ where entire forests were transformed from green to reds, russets, pink and orange during the Fall.

“Leaf peeking” is an official term to describe people who come to see the changing of the seasons  reflected in the coloring of the trees. Try and get a car rental or a place to sleep at this time of the year anywhere within a couple of hundred miles of Boston.

Travelers from all over the world  arrive to witness this phenomenon joining with the crowd of Americans who have taken leave to follow the colors. Unless you have planned  well ahead, the chances of getting a car rental or place to sleep are slim to zero. Ask me how I know!!

Another year, my lifelong friends Buddy and Ruth who were living in Edmonton, Canada at the time, invited me to meet in Seattle and accompany them on a drive through Washington State to Vancouver BC also to enjoy the fall colors in the wooded areas on our journey north.I will always remember their thoughtfulness for including me and the dedicated time we spent together on this shared journey. I am also reminded this was part my very first visit to America when I was still living in London, England. It was “Life Changing,” and I moved to the United States three years later.

Presently, I am living in Marin County, north of San Francisco, an area not known for trees that take on spectacular changes of color in the Fall.

What happened this year?

This year we had the right combination of weather and temperature during the summer months giving us a spectacular fall.

The resulting different pigments came about because of chemical processes that occur in the leaves as we move from Summer to Fall to Winter. Chlorophyll is what gives the leaves their green color. While days were getting shorter, with less hours of sunlight, the trees were producing less chlorophyll allowing the fall colors to take over and change the color of the leaves.

Very simply: in the summer, chlorophyll gives the leaves their green color.

In the fall, an abscission or separation layer is formed blocking the flow of chlorophyll and nutrients from the leaves to the branches, that will allow the leaves to change color and eventually fall off from lack of nutrients. In the process the chlorophyll chemically breaks down and disappears. Sugar that had been trapped in the leaves becomes active bringing out the dormant pigments.

This allows the yellow, orange, red and purple pigments that were present all the time but had been masked by the green chlorophyll, to take over and display their colors. 

Not all trees show red, rust and orange pigments, Some only show yellow while others have predominantly pink, purple and mauve pigments.

According to what I have read, the best weather for brilliant fall foliage is a growing season with ample moisture followed by a dry cool and sunny autumn with warm days and cool but frost-free nights.

Looking at the exceptional colorations that we enjoyed during Fall, I believe this is what happened.

It was truly magical.


Officially, I do not know the first day of winter in Marin County.  According to my observation, winter this year in Marin began on December 16th. I was taking photos on December 14th and became aware that it was noticeably colder. 

We had gentle rain on the 15th and on the 16th, most of the leaves had fallen, creating colorful carpets of autumn leaves on the ground. It was as if a silent decree had gone out that it was time to let go of the colorful leaves leaving bare tree trunks and branches, confirming the show is over until the young green leaves, full of fresh chlorophyll come back in the Spring.  

Such is the miracle of nature.


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