Editor’s Note: Regional environmentalist Jim Amon’s book of photos and essays, “Seeing the Sourlands” was recently published by the Sourlands Conservatory, with support from Bristol-Myers Squibb.

A valentine to regional treasure, Amon, 80, shares his knowledge of a place and provides some simple reminders to all of us as we deal with a national health problem and yearn for wonder.

by Jim Amon

Everyone wants to witness a miracle. Yet, if Walt Whitman was right, and we are actually witnessing them every day, why aren’t we more aware of our good fortune? There may be many reasons, but one of them is surely that we don’t know enough to recognize a miracle when it is before us.

Take, as an example, a few of the many miracles that trees in the eastern forest perform. Every spring, deciduous trees detect the increasing length of the day and respond by opening leaf and flower buds that have been tightly closed all winter. Leaves emerge and immediately begin absorbing sunlight and converting it into sugar that is combined with water and minerals brought up from the roots. The glucose is what keeps the tree alive and healthy. At about the same time that the leaves emerge flower buds open, and that attracts insects seeking nectar. The proliferation of insects occurs just as the neo-tropical songbirds arrive, after spending the winter in the tropics. The birds are famished and weakened after their long flight and feast on the protein-rich insects.

In autumn, the tree’s light sensors send a signal to the tree once again, this time to tell it that the hours of daylight are diminishing. The tree responds to this signal by blocking the passage of nutrients between the branches and its leaves. The leaves, with nourishment from the tree blocked, consume the chlorophyll that has made them green all summer, revealing a blaze of color that has lain dormant beneath the green. Shortly afterward the leaves fall from the tree, usually before they can become platforms for snow that will fall in the winter. If the leaves stayed on the tree, they would collect snow and create a weight that could break branches or even fell entire trees.

You may have already accepted the fall foliage colors as a miracle, but have you been conscious of the other miracles? Isn’t it equally miraculous that trees have sensors that can detect the length of daylight? Or that the green leaves can “eat” sunlight and turn it to nourishment for the entire tree? Or that trees actually expel their leaves before winter, which protects them from being torn apart by heavy snow loads? The more that we know about trees, the more miracles related to them we can witness.

“Seeing the Sourlands” ($39) is available at www.sourland.org. All proceeds benefit the Sourland Conservancy.

For more on Jim Amon and “Seeing the Sourlands,” link onto U.S. 1’s March 4, 2020, profile.

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