Friday, October 19, 2007
"In summer, greenness is cheap," said Thoreau. The grassy meadows, the forest, the duckweed on the ponds. We walk in a world of green. Almost all plants contain that most marvelous of molecules, chlorophyll, without which life on Earth would be dicey indeed. Atomic electrons in the molecule are bumped up in energy by sunlight. As they return their bounty, they energize reactions that leave carbohydrates on nature's table. Packaged sunlight. And here's the surprise. Green is not the color of photosynthesis. Chlorophyll absorbs energy from the blue and red parts of the solar spectrum -- the ends of the rainbow. The green middle of the spectrum is spurned, and that's what reflects off the plants and enters our eyes.
Green is cheap, yes. But in autumn the chlorophyll pigments go out of circulation, and -- well, everyone knows the story. And here in my quiet corner of the College Commons, in these few October weeks before the clocks change, sunrise and deciduous colors coincide with coffee, and I am the recipient of Midas's gold. Last Sunday's New York Times had a thick magazine supplement on watches, yes watches, hugely expensive watches, watches costing many thousands of dollars that tell time no better than my $30 Timex, but which presumably give satisfaction to those who wear them. To each his own, I say. Breitling, Tourneau, Patek Philippe? I'll settle for those yellow and red pigments, the carotenoids and anthocyanin. The treasure I value is just outside the window, and whatever satisfaction I feel is not in the possessing, but in being the recipient of this showering of autumnal light.