This Green And Pleasant Land

There’s likely been many a motorhome laid up this year and sadly, we belong to the same unofficial club. Instead of touring Ireland as we’d originally planned to do pre-Covid, the Knumptywagen has been rested for most of the summer.

And yet, we realised that we could use it in the manner of a lowly caravan by simply driving it somewhere to be an actual home for a couple of weeks. We’ve therefore enjoyed a singular journey through our green and pleasant land to join family on the Channel-washed, sun-soaked south coast of England for a late summer-holiday-by-the-sea.

And what a green and pleasant land we’ve travelled through, in these pre-autumnal, shortening days. Although William Blake’s lyrical phrase has recently become entangled in politicised debate about jingoistic lyrics in the symphonic Proms concerts, we decided that – despite slavery statues being de-plinthed, dunked and daubed – as well as an apparent phalanx of history-denyers arising from the pit of political correctness – we’d stay light and just enjoy the pleasant greens.

Of which, apparently, there are alleged to be something in the region of 295 shades or tints, depending on the proclivity of three different types of cone-cells in our eyes. According to my extensive research (which tends to happen when you’re shuffling your feet by the sea, instead of trundling round Ireland) two of these types of cones have higher sensitivities in the green range of the visual spectrum, hence our eyes transmit more information to our brains about this range of colours than any other.

But hey, let’s not get too Geeky-Scientist here, since the greenness we see all around us in nature is generally down to an apparently meaningless jumble of alphanumeric characters, thus: C55H72MgN405.

So, Ladies & Gentlemen, please be upstanding; charge and raise your glasses and offer up considerable praise and acknowledgment for  . . . let’s hear it folks, a rousing cheer for our old 5th year Biology pal  . . . Yay, it’s Chlorophyll!

And what an interesting hodgepodge of letters and numbers he turns out to be. An unassuming superhero, this mysterious guy captures the energy from sunlight and imparts his green colouration to the leaves within which he is hosted. Like many a superhero before him, he doesn’t perform his good works alone. Other members of his team include Carotene (in yellow lycra); Anthocyanin (in red skin-tight polyester) – and I’m really surprised that Marvel Comics hadn’t come up with them before I just did.

As summer begins its turn into autumn, shortening days and cooling nights trigger three major changes within each leaf. As if in emulation of your esteemed and aging author, Chlorophyll slows down to a gentle halt. In doing so, it cuts off the production of its green pigment, which allows yellow Carotene and ruddy-faced Anthocyanin to prevail and introduce their own particular tints into our bucolic landscapes.

And then, in gentle sequence, our trees build themselves little corky constrictions at the base of each and every leafstalk, which cut off the flow of nutrients to the tree, marooning our superheroes in the leaves. Here, Carotene & Anthocyanin stand on the shoulders of ailing Chlorophyll and induce the spectacular displays of yellows, reds, pinks and purples which we know and love, whether we witness them in New or Old England.

The trees shut down for the coming winter, the cork dams eventually serve to sever and drop the leaves, which in turn provide natural nutrients and ground cover for a host of earth-bound organisms. With a bit of luck and biological goodwill on behalf of the planet, the sequence will then reawaken with spring growth as the sun begins its annualised ascent into the celestial sphere.

So, in this land of hope and glory, where ‘summer’s lease hath all too short a date’, let’s celebrate each season  . . . and shout out loud for Team Chlorophyll!

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