When Leaves Turn Red

There is an old people’s legend of why leaves on trees turn red in the fall. This is that legend. (Above photo by Dave Marshall, Adirondacks, New York)

In the earlier years, the leaves on the trees did not turn colors when the air became cooler and then colder. They remained green as they were when first sprung from the shoots of new sprigs. But as the winter came upon the land, the people gathered together and would need heavier coverings to keep the cold winds out. The snows would soon follow, down from the north, and covered their villages in a white blanket that warmed no one. The sun would shine less and be as cold as the moon. Crops and animals, both of which the people relied upon, would soon hide in the earth.

The people needed to keep warm and the animal skins and coverings were not enough. They needed their fires to burn longer and hotter both day and night to keep the winter cold away.

This they did and set out each day gathering the wood from the trees to feed the fires in their hearths. They did this every time the winter, the snows, the cold winds came. The trees saw this and took pity on the people by offering their branches and wood. The wood burned bright and warm all during the cold winters. In the spring and summer the trees grew taller and replaced what the people used in the winter. The people respected the trees of the forest for their kindness and sacrifice and protected them from any harm. They vowed only to use the wood that was needed to keep them warm.

Carol Gaiman, Kenoza Lake, New York

But as time went on the people became more plentiful. They needed more and more wood to keep warm, cook their food and light the night. They used more wood to build their shelters, and for stuff that kept them amused. They used wood for many things; rafts to cross lakes and oceans, bridges to span rivers and spears to make war. This alarmed the trees and also the animals that depended on the forest for their own lives. They feared that a time would come when there would be no more trees, no more forests as they would all be burned to warm and to satisfy the people. And so, the trees talked among themselves and asked the great sky maker to guide and help them. The great sky maker talked to the trees and said you need to talk to the people. They will understand what you need. Of course, the trees don’t have the same language as people and so they didn’t know how to do so.

Then one day a tree noticed a newborn baby cradled by her mother. There was much love being shown between the mother and the little one as she nursed and cared for her. Trees can sense that better than people. The tree thought that if the mother could love and protect her little one so much, she could love and protect the trees as well. If only the trees could tell her what they needed.

At another time, the little one started to cry. She was hungry and needed her mother’s milk. The mother was busy with her planting work and so did not come at once. The little one continued to cry and soon her face was changing color. It became red like the setting sun and her crying voice carried over the fields. The mother soon heard the cries and saw the crimson face of her daughter and quickly lifted her to her breast and gave her the food that she needed.

Mark Hoenke, Crystal Mountain Michigan

The tree knew it could not cry out in any voice the people could hear, but they could turn red. Their leaves can cry out to the people that they need the love and protection as much as the newborn.

And so, each fall, when the cold winds start to blow, and the sun sinks low in the sky and before the first snow flies the trees give out a cry. Their leaves turn crimson or yellow or purple or any color other than green. They are talking to the people to respect their forests and not to burn it down in their hearths and use it to destruction. Many people have learned this long ago and yet the trees still cry out.

The old people’s legend continues today as we hear the trees speak. They let the forest prosper and head south. Those picturesque photos of the turning colors in the forest are a plea and a reminder. So, take heed all of you who feel for the earth, the signs are there, even if we cannot hear the voices. Time to head south, save the trees.

We, of course, have not been north in the winter for many years. Here in the islands the winter rains keep the vegetation and trees lush and green, and the air never turns cold. Our friends and family send pictures of the changing colors which brings back pleasant memories of the changing seasons. People will drive south, and cruisers will be heading south in a few weeks; we will meet many when they arrive. I’m sure they are unaware that their actions have been passed down from their ancestor’s understanding and compassion When Leaves Turn Red.

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