Peak autumn color. From the beginning of September, I wait for it with the anticipation many small children reserve for Christmas. It's that one week of the year when the trees go ablaze with color, and a person could almost survive on nothing more than long walks under the leaves.
While we grown-ups may be able to happily sip a warm beverage and stroll down the autumn sidewalks, if your kids need a more concrete way to enjoy the fall leaves, try taking a family leaf collecting walk. There's no prep required, just grab a basket, bundle up, and head out the door.
If your kids are young, like mine, just collecting some leaves may be enough. Have them look for specific colors or shapes, or find leaves they think are particularly pretty. Sweet Husband thought it was a funny joke to tell the Kid to look for the most crumbly leaves possible, much to my chagrin!
If your kids are older, perhaps a little science lesson can be worked in. For example, the yellow and orange leaves actually have those color pigments — the same ones that make carrots orange — in them all year long. They're typically masked by green chlorophyll, but when chlorophyll production slows down in the fall the golden hues finally get their chance to shine through.
The reason for the red pigment — the same one present in fall apples and Thanksgiving cranberries — is somewhat more technical. In layman's terms, though, the most intense color is produced when bright, fall days are followed by cold, but not freezing, nights. Does that sound like the fall we're having this year?
If you bring a basket of leaves home, it can also be fun to try to identify them. The Arbor Day Foundation website (www.arborday.org) has a great online field guide that's fairly easy to navigate.
While your leaves will last a few days indoors, if you would like to preserve them longer you can dip them in beeswax to help hold their color. Waxman Candles, 609 Mass St., and The Merc, 901 Iowa St., both sell bars of beeswax locally.
To preserve your leaves, first use a double boiler to gently melt the wax. Then — helping kids so they don't burn themselves — gently swirl the leaves through the wax until they're coated. Hold the dipped leaf vertically for about 30 seconds to let the excess wax drip off, then place it on newspaper to dry.
Once you have a set of leaves, try taping or stapling them to a long piece of yarn or string to make a garland. Now you've spent an afternoon playing in the leaves, and you have a beautiful Thanksgiving decoration to show for it!
— Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in Lawrence and writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at www.mybitofearth.net.