This has been an unusual fall across much of the country. Here in Virginia, we have received only recent rains, much too late to help the leaves reach their peak colors before they fell. This sugar maple in a yard in the quaint town of Dayton in Rockingham Co. defied the dry weather. Perhaps not as bright as usual, her broad leaves still turned rich gold in color.
Whether from fatigue or the extended dry spell or both, the shapely maple gave up most of her leafy crown all at once. With little wind, this year’s crop remained right where they fell. The old wrought iron fence seemed to help corral them, too.
The sugar maple in our backyard and I go way back.
When my wife and I purchased our current home 33 years ago, only three trees graced the acre and a half. That had to change for several reasons.
Trees provide so many benefits to any property, urban, suburban or rural. Trees add both an aesthetic and economic real estate value.
Besides their beauty, trees provide practical purposes, too. In summer, their shade serves as a natural air conditioner. They prove a reliable windbreak against harsh winter winds. As a bird enthusiast, I wanted a mixture of trees that would supply a nice habitat for a variety of birds year-round.
The sugar maple that now dominates the middle of our backyard was just one of several trees that I transplanted from our property near Killbuck, Ohio to our current residence near Mt. Hope. I did so in the fall, the optimal time to transplant since trees are dormant.
I dug the tree out of our hillside woods. The soil was so loose and gravely it all fell off. I wrapped the bare-rooted maple in burlap, and headed east. By the time I had reached our soon to be home, it was dark. I stabbed the ground with the pointy tree shovel, pulled the earth back, slipped the roots into the moist ground, stamped it closed and left.
Later in the light of day, I trimmed all of the limbs and the top third off the tree to let the roots take hold the first year. And did they ever. In three decades, the little sugar maple has grown into a full, mature, shapely tree. It is the jewel in the leafy crown of our modest domain.
Over the many years it has endured a lot, including serious damage from the remnants of a hurricane, a severe thunderstorm gust and an ice storm. Each time I carefully patched the exposed flesh as if it were an injured child.
The sugar maple has hosted innumerable bird nests during its life, birthing many different songbird species. Other birds and animals big and small have sought sanctuary in its embracing arms and expansive, dense canopy. Most were wanted. Others, like the family of raccoons that raided the bird feeders, were not.
Backyard birds use the tree as a launching pad to the nearby feeders. Nuthatches and woodpeckers wedge sunflower seeds into the crackled, flaking bark to crack open the shells to get to the sunflower meat.
My verdant friend hosts free entertainment, too. Late spring to early fall Ruby-throated Hummingbirds take turns waiting in ambush on a favorite perch for other hummers coming to the sugar water feeder that hangs by our kitchen window. It’s pure joy to watch them chase and chatter after one another.
The sugar maple tree is a beauty in any season, but particularly in October. With each bright sunrise, a warm orange glow streams through the windows into the house. The tree’s crown blazes high above the rooftop, contrasting nicely with the backdrop of the evergreen of queued white pines against the stubbled cornfield.
The sugar maple paints a new autumn scene each October day. In less than a month, the leaves of my stately arbor ally turn from rich emerald to glowing gold, and all too soon drop in feathery waves.
Even leafless, the sugar maple freely shares its generous hospitality, attracting birds, critters and humans. Spring, summer, fall or winter, my old friend says welcome home.
A week by week pictorial record of the changing of the leaves on the sugar maple follows.