[Tweeters] Our Subtle Autumn

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Sat Oct 22 18:30:56 PDT 2016

One fall photo you're not likely to see in a calendar are the hillsides of Port Townsend flaming with color. It just isn't happening. Oh sure, around town you'll see some bright shrubs and trees - mostly imported from somewhere else, that apparently have the genes to turn color even here in Western Washington's mildest climate.

Big-leaf Maples can turn their bright yellow-gold away from the water a bit, and the Vine Maples their various pale yellows and bright reds, but sometimes not. Is it just me, or have the color of Puget Sound Big- leaf Maples pooped out with climate change? Seems to me that frosty late October days of 40 years ago brought out the color of these trees in Seattle. I can't remember a series of cold enough days in October in the last decade, near the Sound to bring out as much color. Maybe I got memory problems. Just sayin'.

But one thing we got is subtlety around here. We have fall color, but it's mostly subdued, something I've learned to love. "Love the one you're with" as the 'ol CSN song went. The nice thing about about fall colors here, subtle as they usually are, is they help sort out all that summer greenery, as each species makes it's self known by color change. The Bitter Cherries turn yellow a leaf at a time, not all at once. The shrub swamp on the north side of Kah Tai lagoon is showing the old gold of our native Hazel, along with the subtle orange tint of Douglas Hawthorn, which I first noted last fall.

I guess this is tree recognition, rather than actual ID (getting close enough to actually examine the features of the plant), but once you ID a plant enough, you can spot it from a distance - like the distinctive mop top of a mature Grand Fir- a feature that stands out a mile away. You don't even need to leave your vehicle if you don't wanna. Impress your friends with your tree recognition abilities as you drive around (of course this only works with folks who know less than you do).

One tree around here that is definitely unsubtle, at all times, is the fabulous Pacific Madrone. Famed for it's amazing bark, the one's in my neighborhood right now are flaming with berries of brightest red. After they ferment they provide an opportunity for birds to get drunk. You could easily make a calendar illustrated with nothing but Madrone photos.

Fall colors are still coming along - not only is our lowland fall subtle, it's slow, unlike New England and places like that, where the change can be quite rapid. The Scoulers Willow's, one of my favorites, are just beginning to turn their subtle gold. Something to look forward to.

Jeff Gibson

Port Towsend Wa

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