The Big Fall

Get out there and take a look at it. Sure, the world knows about the Northeast and its glorious forest wall to forest wall color. Awesome – and tough enough to see in a normal year because of the tourist demand swamping lodgings in cute small towns. Whidbey Island, and the lands around the Salish Sea have their colors, too. Especially in 2020, they are a great excuse to go for a drive, a ride, or a walk. Those leaves won’t last long. (Is that why they call them leaves, because they leave?)

Start with the obvious one, the big trees. No, not the evergreens. They’re ever-green. Big Leaf Maples. Grand and broad, reaching out and up, growing so quickly that some call them weed trees. A pine falls, and while its neighbors’ seeds take root and turn into seedlings, a massive broad leaf acts like a mushroom with a very woody stem. Frequently that woody stem is more like a mushroom than most trees. It is relatively temporary, in tree terms. They grow quickly and large, but their core can be less structurally sound than a conifer. In the meantime, though, they make dinner-plate sized leaves that mask the ground, providing cover for critters and the life that turns death into compost. Eventually, the patience of those coniferous seedlings wins through and the forest tries to re-establish pines, firs, and cedars; but in the meantime, enjoy the kids picking up leaves bigger than their heads.

With a nod to the south, thank a neighboring state for Oregon Grape. A little spiky, their much smaller leaves excel at brighter colors. They won’t create a forest, but they’re the highlights around the edges and in the fields splashing colors down low, approachable.

The island houses transplants. That’s true with people as well as foliage. Folks from wherever decide to dress their property in colors and styles that may be native or at least more common somewhere else. Delicate leaves of Japanese Maples are common. Various willows may expose curly and colorful branches and stems.

Any mention of colorful branches and stems is an excuse to welcome madronas (or madrones, take your pick of spellings), what carry color throughout the year. Bark peels to reveal new growth, a new protective layer that shows itself in contrasting tones to the old growth.

And then there are the invasives. Some transplants seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, blackberries, while appreciated for their fruits, overwhelm empty lots and native flora. Before they shed their coat, they pass from green through the typical spectrum. (Then stand there, taunting land owners with thorns.)

While you’re thinking of trees, keep in mind that the island’s largest city is Oak Harbor. Oak. Harbor. Sail in. Walk around. Enjoy the combination of autumn and an island.

Evergreen? Yes, and no. There’s more than one color decorating the island, and each season has a style. Enjoy.

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