2014-11-18 / Community

Negative space gives shape to all that we see in nature

A bare branch hangs low over the water at dusk.

Nearer the beginning of winter than that of fall, most of the deciduous trees are now once again bare, having divested themselves of the former finery that draped our world through three seasons. Only the oak and beech leaves are holding out, with an occasional recalcitrant maple here and there, clinging for all they're worth to what's left of their former grandeur. From the dull browns to the bright yellows of oaks to the green-to-copper transition of the beeches, these last holdouts continue to provide contrast even as winter begins to surreptitiously close in all around.

In his writings, Henry David Thoreau maintained that fall was the deciduous trees' triumphant season, the time when they announced to the entire temperate world that they are not all just part and parcel of an anonymously green base color but also have attributes all their own. And it is in fall that this color bursts from among the pines, firs and hemlocks, asserting itself as it has at no other time since the first spring surge. It is as though the beech tree languoring outside my window beneath a tall pine is shouting, “Look at me. I've been here hiding among all the greenery all along!” This is its time to shine before leaving its legacy in a carpet on the ground.

From the grandest displays of light during a November sunset to the smallest stirrings deep within a plant, everything in nature happens for a reason and with purpose. And just as in art theory there is such a thing as negative space, so does it present itself in the landscape as well when the trees begin to shed their spent leaves. Large spatial areas open up between the trees, and allow the sun back in to bathe ground that was heretofore covered in shadow. And we learn one of the basic truths about the tree canopy, that leaves are what provide the illusion of density, seen both from the ground and from the air. And once they are gone, relegated once more to the soil from which they sprang, we see the trees in their naked simplicity as they make the shift into survival mode. 

During the short time between the fall leaf drop and the first measurable snow of the seaon, the soil and all the forms of life that live in it get the opportunity to bask in the sun's bright rays, manufacturing and stockpiling energy for future use, as well as storing the heat necessary to keep plant roots from freezing completely during the cold months. Despite the fact that the show above-ground is pretty much over for another year, life continues down below, albeit at a much slower and more clandestine pace. And from above, our world here in the northeastern portion of the United States loses a much larger share of its greenness as bare space takes over.

While I do miss the spring and summer lushness and the autumn color, here on the pond, the opening up of the spaces between the trees provides me with a much better view of the water and what's going on out there as the Mallard ducks and Canada geese ponder their departure dates. And until it freezes over some time in January, I can see a lot more of it appear right before my very eyes as even more leaves fall.

— Rachel Lovejoy, a freelance writer living in Lyman, who enjoys exploring the woods of southern Maine, can be reached via email at rachell1950@hotmail.com.

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