It was Bugsy Gates who introduced me to photosynthesis. Of course, Bugsy was not her first name, it was just the way we sophomore students referred to her behind her back, mostly with affection. I suspect the nickname was acquired because she taught biology and bugs were part of the curriculum.
Each fall I’m reminded of that biology class as taught by Miss Gates. She taught us that the foliage display depends on a combination of hours of daylight, nighttime temperatures, and amounts of rainfall. During spring and summer, the chlorophyll in trees’ leaves uses light energy from the sun to mix water and carbon dioxide into chemical energy. This process provides the tree with needed organic compounds and us with fresh oxygen. Once the nighttime temperatures begin dropping, often in August, trees get the signal from Mother Nature to gradually cut down their production of chlorophyll. The color pigments in leaves are not green at all but really yellow, orange, brown, and, in some trees, red. The bright green of chlorophyll masks these colors during spring and summer so, actually, fall brings out the leaves true colors!
Living again in New England, I’m noticing that each day brings a bit more color. Sometimes it’s just a few leaves near the top that offer a pop of red or orange. Other times, a small tree can be washed with yellow almost overnight. The color changes are fleeting, like moments of life, so you have to pay attention to trees in the fall or you’ll miss the soul-satisfying beauty of nature changing herself from summer liveliness into winter sleep.
Another memory of Bugsy’s class was the book she’d read a few pages from at the end of class if we had been “good” (not clearly defined). The book was entitled “Mr. Limpet”. We sophisticated fifteen/sixteen year- olds mostly did cooperate so we could hear more of the story about a man who fell into the water and turned into a fish. He then aided the Allies during WWII by seeking out enemy submarines. I suppose the story had some relationship to our science studies (the fish as a species) but the fact that I remember the story, Bugsy, and where I sat while listening is a key. Like witnessing once again nature’s fall cycle, memories of sophomore biology class are treasures to be savored during the long winter ahead.
P.S. As I’m writing this in early October, you’ll notice the trees are only part way through their transformation. The scientists figure out when peak season will be and here’s a map showing when the leaves are turning this year in your neck of the woods!