We have entered the micro-season of “The Maple and the Ivy Turn Yellow”. This is the third micro-season of the mini-season of Frost Descent. The micro-seasons within Frost Descent are:
- The First Frost Falls (Oct 23 – Oct 27)
- Light Rain Showers (Oct 28 – Nov 01)
- The Maple and the Ivy Turn Yellow (Nov 02 – Nov 07)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
As a way to celebrate this season, we will learn about what causes leaves to change color and then read some haiku by Issa, Basho, and Buson.
The Leaves Turn Color
During the spring and summer, a tree’s leaves are green. The leaves are green because they have a pigment known as chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is an essential pigment for trees because it transforms the sun’s energy into nutrients in a process known as photosynthesis. The leaves appear green because chlorophyll does not absorb the green wavelength of white light. The green wavelength is instead reflected off the chlorophyll. Because of the reflection, the leaves appear green to the human eye.(1)
As we transition into autumn, the overall amount of daylight decreases, and the trees reduce the amount of chlorophyll produced. Once this happens, the other pigments that are contained within the leaves begin to appear.
A leaf will appear yellow when the pigment known as xanthophylls is present. Orange colors come from pigments known as carotenoids, and the reds come from a pigment known as anthocyanins.(2) The exact color of the autumn leaves depends on various factors including mixing all the pigments and any residual chlorophyll.
The Intensity of Colors
Temperature, light, and the amount of available water all impact the colors and duration of the foliage season. The U.S. Forest Service explains,
“A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays. During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. These conditions – lots of sugar and light – spur the production of the brilliant anthocyanin pigments, which tint reds, purples, and crimson.”(3)
It is also known that an early frost diminishes many of the bright colors, while rainy days tend to increase the intensity of fall colors.
The typical foliage season for New England starts in mid-September and runs until late October. However, if you travel to southern Massachusetts or parts of Cape Cod at this time you may still be able to see some colors on the trees.
In early November, Japan is in the middle of its peak foliage season. The northern regions of Japan, including the island of Hokkaido, start their foliage as early as September. By mid-November, peak foliage season has reached Kyoto. The foliage line continues down to Tokyo in late November and Fukuoka in early December.(4) See the map below for the peak viewing times based on location.
The World Kigo Database explains that “leaf” or “leaves” as a stand-alone word is not a kigo. However, adding seasonal qualifiers allow for the leaves to become seasonal references.
An example of this is that “young leaves” or “fresh leaves” place a haiku in spring or summer. In autumn, “red leaves”, “yellow leaves” and “red autumn leaves” are common kigo. Whereas “withered leaves” or “decayed leaves” would place the haiku in winter. For this week’s haiku selection, we are going to focus on autumn haiku.
who might be living downriver? red leaves fall (translated by David G. Lanoue)
pine's ivy-- after leaves turn red cut down (translated by David G. Lanoue)
treading untrodden earth to see... evening's red leaves (translated by David G. Lanoue)
written letters, yes not colored leaves raked up burned after reading (translated by Jane Reichhold)
May this Shinto priest sweep away my name – into the River of Fallen Leaves (translated by Sam Hamill)
so very precious: are they tinting my tears? falling crimson leaves (translated by David Landis Barnhill)
ivy leaves giving the feeling of antiquity autumn foliage (translated by Jane Reichhold)
fallen willow leaves — the clear stream gone dry, stones here and there (referenced by Haruo Shirane)
A Haiku Invitation
This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references autumn leaves.
Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!
- “Chlorophyll”; National Geographic
- “Why Do Leaves Change Color?”; SciJinks-NOAA
- “Science of Fall Colors”; US Forest Service
- JapanRail Pass, Autumn in Japan: 2022 Fall Foliage Forecast
- “Leaves of All Seasons”; World Kigo Database
Issa’s haiku were retrieved from David G. Lanoue’s Haiku Guy. Basho’s haiku were retrieved from “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” editor: Gábor Terebess. Buson’s haiku was retrieved from “Beyond the Haiku Moment: Bashō, Buson, and Modern Haiku Myths” by Haruo Shirane.
“Let the universe be your companion, bearing in mind the true nature of things—mountains and rivers, trees and grass, and humanity – and enjoy the falling blossoms and scattered leaves.”Matsuo Basho