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A Day in the Life of a Red Maple Leaf

October 28, 2010
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This is my time to shine.

I've been pumped with chlorophyll and have been using the sun's energy to make simple sugars from water and carbon dioxide all spring and summer long. These carbohydrates have helped me and my siblings grow and survive windy days on these branches that we call home. This is a good thing, too, since some of us can get a little leery of heights until we feel strong enough.

It's been one of my better years. Mother Nature has been good to me and I've had a long and wonderful summer.

But now, I'm not getting as much chlorophyll, and a layer of cork cells at my baseĀ  is closing off my flow of water and nutrients. The breakdown of all this sugar (can anyone say sugar high?) and the sun's bright light is making my skin lose its green shade. This means it's the one time of year when I can lose my inhibitions and let my true colors shine through.

It's complicated, though. In order for me to really shine on nature's stage, I have to hope Mother Nature can continue to deliver the perfect mixture of environmental factors. She needs to bring me autumn days that are bright, sunny and cool, nights that are cold, but not below freezing, and just the right mix of rainfall. If she does this, and I'm in a good location to benefit from these conditions and have maintained solid health, then I can steal the show and be the talk of the town. This is my chance to make it big in autumn history.

I'm part of a tree that lines the edge of a beautiful park entrance, enhancing the landscape of a nature center, where I can influence visitors to look my way. And six dozen (or more - I've lost count) families that came to enjoy a fall festival in the park have really made me believe this might be my year. Each one of them have looked up and smiled at me, pointing and beaming at my color. I have shed my lime skin and am revealing the brightest, shiniest cherry I've ever shown. I think mine may be the most vivid and dazzling on the entire tree.

And then it happens. Not in a rush. Not too late in the season.At just the right moment.

A consistent but light gust of wind rushes through my branches and, in a shutter, I fall, cascading down, down, down in a soft, light flutter to the ground at the toes of a small girl. She might be 7 years old and has auburn curls and fair skin with pink cheeks. She stops and picks me up. She is admiring me with a sparkle in her green eyes - eyes that remind me of my former skin. I hear her mother call her name - Caroline. And as she looks up to say she's coming, I'm afraid she's going to drop me. Instead, she clutches me close and runs after her mom and the rest of her family.

And I am home. In the delicate hand of a girl who is going to admire me and keep me and preserve me.

There is no better way to exit stage left.

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