Ooh! Aah! and Wow! Have been expressions we have uttered a lot in the past couple weeks as we observe the magnificent colors of fall which this year have been especially magnificent here in the northwest. They had begun showing up in Oregon while we were there and have really been on display here in our area of Montana. We are so fortunate to live in one of those parts of the world where nature has one last fling before settling down into winter’s sleep. In God’s design of this planet Earth as the special place for habitation by mankind, He established seasons by how He oriented the Earth in our solar system, and in many areas such as ours we have very distinct changes of seasons, each of which has its own beauty. The prophet Isaiah recorded this statement from God: “For thus says the LORD who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), ‘I am the LORD, and there is none else’” (Isa. 45:18).
Just as we learn a lot about a builder by examining what he has built, we observe much about our awe-inspiring God by observing His amazing creation. He didn’t merely create the earth in such a way that life could exist, but He also incorporated spectacular beauty and breath-taking details that are mind-boggling when examined closely. He did all this not only to display His glory but also for man, the crown of His creation (Psa. 8, 104), to enjoy. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy to challenge him to instruct people to “fix their hope on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (I Tim. 6:17).
That includes the beauty of the autumn colors which He made possible by how He made plants and trees and increases the length of night time in the fall. As days shorten and temperatures become crisp, the greens of summer foliage are transformed into the kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, yellows and browns over which we have been oohing and aahing. In His all-wise design, God incorporated three factors which influence autumn leaf color: leaf pigments, length of night, and weather. The timing of color change and falling leaves is primarily regulated by the calendar, i.e., the increasing length of darkness. As days grow shorter, and nights longer and cooler, biochemical processes in the leaf begin to paint the landscape with various shades of red, orange, yellow and brown. Three types of pigments are involved in foliage which provide the autumn palette of color:
1) Chlorophyll, which gives leaves their basic green color and is necessary for photosynthesis, the chemical reaction that enables plants to use sunlight to manufacture sugars for their food—sugars that are stored for their winter dormant period.
2) Carotenoids, which produce yellow, orange and brown colors in such things as corn, carrots, daffodils and bananas.
3) Anthocyanins, which give color to such things as cranberries, red apples, concord grapes, blueberries and strawberries.
Both chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in the chloroplasts of leaf cells throughout the spring and summer growing seasons. Most anthocyanins are produced in the autumn, in response to bright light and excess plant sugars within the leaf cells. During the growing season, chlorophyll is continually being produced and broken down and leaves appear green. As night length increases in the autumn, chlorophyll production slows down and then stops allowing the carotenoids and anthocyanins present in the leaf to be unmasked and “show their true colors.” The timing of the color change varies by species and is genetically inherited. Some of the species in our area which have brilliant colors in the autumn are the maples, chestnuts, mountain ash and oaks, plus all the varying species of brush such as service berry, huckleberry, chokecherry, etc.
The amount of brilliance of the colors that develop in any particular autumn season is related to the weather conditions that occur before and during the time the chlorophyll in the leaves is dwindling. Temperature and moisture are the main influences. A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, but not freezing nights seem to bring about the most spectacular color displays. The amount of moisture in the soil also affects autumn colors. As the supply of food is cut off to the leaves, they soon fall to the ground where they provide food for a number of God’s creatures and then decompose to provide nutrients to the soil and form a spongy humus that helps absorb and hold rainfall. What an amazing design by our amazing Designer-Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. As you enjoy the beauty of autumn, praise the Creator who “gave us all things to enjoy” because of His great love for us. God could have just made everything one color, but He created in such a way as to give us blue sky, white clouds, green grass, and a kaleidoscope of colors in the fall. Thank you God!!