It’s that time of year for walking along forest trails, parks, streets, the backyard or anywhere in the neighborhood. Who doesn’t enjoy kicking up piles of newly fallen foliage and hearing the crunching, crackling sound made by dried leaves or the schhlurpp of the wet ones?
Now that the leaves have left their branch offices, a question comes to mind: Where do they all go?
I assembled a focus group of environmental experts on all manner of leafology.
• Dr. Leif Erikson, doctorate in fallen foliage. Leif, please explain the science behind all this natural wonder.
“At first, the falling leaves, often still bright with color, blanket the ground with a kaleidoscope of color that is as spectacular as when those same leaves were still at the top of the trees.
“Let’s look at how the leaves were constructed in the first place. From the leaf formation last May, when unfolding from buds swelled by water and warm days, chlorophyll took carbon dioxide and water, and used carbon, oxygen and hydrogen to build more complex substances.
“The energy used to make sugar from simple and abundant carbon dioxide and water is light from the sun. Photosynthesis is a process exclusive to green plants.
“Leaves from the trees are decomposed on the ground by a gang of simple organisms. Bacteria, fungi, mites, nematodes, earthworms, insects and even small mammals see leaves as a buffet.
“This is part of one of the fundamental cycles in nature – the carbon cycle. Plant leaves fall to the ground. There, the leaves are broken down by bacteria and put back into the atmosphere.
“So when you think of rotting leaves, think green. The leaves that fell this fall already are on their way to being the new leaves of next May.”
I can just hear my neighborhood trees talking to their branches: “Hey, Bud! Don’t look so sad; I’ll see you in the spring.”
• Toro Hitachi, landscaping professional. Toro, can’t you use a rake to corral the leaves? Other than the obnoxious sound your blowers make, you seem to be relocating the leaves from the lawn to the curb and then the street. What about those leaves that you don’t bag. If you bag them, where do they end up? Do they get blown someplace else?
• Dr. Windy West, aeronautical botanist. Dr. West, do leaves have an internal GPS function? Seems like I could park in a desert and the whirly wonders still end up in my engine and the windshield wiper trough. Just when I think I’ve got them cleaned out, they seem to have birthed a new bunch of crunch overnight.
How do they find the 3-inch-wide gutters on every house in the hood?
Oh, one more. Leaves are much more accomplished dam builders than beavers. Show me a sewer drain and I’ll show you leaves with engineering degrees.
So when you think of rotting leaves, think green. The leaves that fell in the fall are already on their way to be the new models for next spring.
A few miscellaneous points for your after-dinner conversation:
• Rain-soaked leaves on the hood of your car won’t blow off until you hit 35 mph.
• Palm fronds laugh at leaf blowers.
• Leaves can laugh when you take a fall.
• Leaves really like to mulch.
• Leaves like to be placed in kids’ books.
• Ryan Leaf was a mediocre quarterback during his brief NFL career.
Andy Dolich operates Dolich & Associates, a sports consultancy in Los Altos.