In late autumn, after most of the leaves have fallen, the forest suddenly becomes transparent. The contours of the land leap out in 3-D, exposing all kinds of subtleties. Many of them are small, bashful, the kind of sights that require us to look down instead of up.
For example, just before Thanksgiving, I noticed for the first time some spectacular maple leaves in colors—rose, bright yellow, hunter’s orange—that had long since left the canopy above me. They were big leaves, 6 inches or more across, but they were growing on stems less than 18 inches tall.
Why do these tiny trees put forth such disproportionately large and brilliant leaves? Perhaps it’s because now the sunlight streams down to the forest floor unhindered, where these previously shaded maples can suck up energy with their outsized solar collectors.
Once I noticed the first, the second, the third, I saw them everywhere. They fluttered, but there was no breeze. They looked like cops doing that palm-down hand-waggle that means, “You’re not going fast enough for me to stop you, but you’re going too fast.”
The semaphore of the leaves has a similar message: “Slow down. You’re going too fast to see me.”