Friday, October 26, 2012

The Halloween Tree

“The hidden colors of the trees await the dawn of the new day, and another chance for revelation…”

By Patrick J. Walsh

With the arrival of Autumn here in the Northeast, there are a lot of trees sporting vibrant colors, as their leaves are transformed from the greens of Spring and summer to the varied hues of Fall.

In the park where I walk, there are colors everywhere: bright red and yellow and orange, mixed here and there with the darker shades of purple and brown, and still a fair amount of stubborn straggling green. The leaves mirror the bounty of the harvest season, and the coming celebrations of Halloween and Thanksgiving.

On these pleasant Autumn days, it is easy to imagine nature donning her colors as a sort of mask, dressing up like a child anticipating the delight of the Halloween ritual of trick or treat.

© Patrick J. Walsh
Each day the tree unveils a bit more color, as though
it were taking part in some silent conversation…

The ‘trick’, of course, is that the process by which the leaves change from green to their various colors is actually the opposite of ‘putting on’ color; it is instead a process of revelation, as the pigments already in the leaves are revealed when the green pigment of chlorophyll fades away.

During the longer days of Spring and summer, chlorophyll plays an important role in photosynthesis — the process by which the leaves transform water and carbon dioxide into the glucose that provides energy for the trees, as well as the oxygen that serves as a useful byproduct for the rest of the environment.

In the Fall, when days grow shorter and trees prepare to weather the winter months by living off their stored food, the process of photosynthesis slows and the reduced role of chlorophyll results in the fading of the green and the emergence of the hidden colors.

Among all the brightly colored trees in the park, there is one in particular that each day unveils a bit more color, as though it were taking part in some silent conversation while it gradually changes from a vibrant green to an incredibly vivid orange.

In this time of reflection alternating with anticipation, I have come to think of the tree with the bright green and orange leaves as a Halloween Tree. In its slow transformation, it seems to costume itself as a symbol of the movement of the days of this particular year, from the gentle warmth of summer to the nervous chill of Autumn.

This natural transformation of the seasons is mirrored in the historic and cultural markings of the holiday. In its 18th century origin, “Halloween” was derived as a contraction of “All Hallow Even (as in ‘evening’),” — a reminder that the fanciful celebration of costumes and apparitions is in fact a harbinger of the Christian religious celebration of All Saints Day.

In memory and in application, as its practice passes from one generation to the next, Halloween in these suburbs around the park reveals much about what is important to the people who live here.

For children, there is the innocent joy of being out after dark with family and friends, and the excitement of visiting the neighbors to share the creativity of a Halloween costume while receiving gifts of candy and a warm welcome. For adults, there is the casual interaction of the social ritual, and consideration of the larger implications inherent in the Christian rite of the following day.

And in the muted voices of the celebration moving up and down the street and in the coolness of the Autumn evening, there is the slow transformation of the seasons, while the hidden colors of the trees await the dawn of the new day, and another chance for revelation in the brief time left before winter.

© Patrick J. Walsh

The Walk in the Park series:
• The Hawk

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