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Randy Holladay is a former Louisa County High School earth science teacher. His guest column, On & Off Earth, is published once a month. 

If asked to pick a favorite season, I would choose fall, and a favorite month, October. Yet, October comes with both tricks and treats. For me, the treats far outweigh the tricks. This year, October throws in some bonus treats. We will have to wait, ever wary, of what further tricks tumble our way this tempestuous year.

October’s first treat, which greets you just as you step outside, is that the the muggy heat of summer has been replaced by the cool air of fall. Then you notice the deep green of summer has begun to throw in a splash of color, at first subtle, then riotous as the month progresses. 

After dark, this October treats us with two full moons, the harvest moon on the 1st and a second full, or blue, moon on Halloween night. Mars, closer to Earth and higher in the sky this month than it will be again until 2035, shined brightly next to the moon on the 2nd.

Venus still beams as the morning star and will continue to do so into 2021. The sun, already well into Virgo as October begins, takes the rest of the month to move through the largest zodiacal constellation.

While I never take for granted how lucky I am to be able to wander in the forest every day, and I do notice small changes on every walk, I seldom have epiphanies.This summer, a couple of “whoa” moments came to me. The first was on one of the many damp, dripping days when I realized: All forests are rain forests.

Sure, for biologists there are categories, based on rainfall totals, that qualify a large area of trees as a “rain” forest. But to grow a tree takes a long time and a lot of water and places on Earth without trees, or where most or all of the trees have been removed, don’t see much rain.

Trees are just as much a part of the water cycle as the clouds, rain and oceans and societies that remove all or too many trees do so at their own peril. There are no rain savannas or rain deserts. The only places on Earth that see significant rainfall are forests.

The other ah-ha moment came when I noticed every leaf, on every tree, is angled toward the sun. Every leaf grows so as not to block every other leaf. With the cooler temperatures and shorter days of October, leaf presentation time is over.

Leading the way in cutting loose their leaves in preparation for winter are the understory trees, the dogwoods, tupelos and maples, all just now beginning to turn a rich, almost iridescent, red. The poplars and hickories are next, with vibrant yellows often released en masse as leaf blizzards by October’s swirling winds. The oaks will cling to their green the longest. Get out and watch the change unfold; it will change daily.

As delightful as October can be, this year it is far from all treats. Cooler temperatures and rapidly shrinking daylight is moving us back inside, raising fears of yet another surge in a pandemic still killing almost 1,000 Americans a day. An election is building to be more contentious and divisive than any I can remember in my sixty-plus years, while records have been smashed for heat, fires, storms and floods that show little sign of slowing. These are tough times that we can get through, but only together.

For anxiety relief and your general well-being, I recommend finding some time every day to get outside, safely, pushing aside October’s tricks and enjoying the many treats this delightful month has to offer.

Randy Holladay is a retired Louisa County High School earth science teacher.


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