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Outdoors: Maple Leaf Rag

When I was growing up, I loved going to Grandma’s house….lots of cookies and usually, she played the piano for us. Her favorite song was the Maple Leaf Rag. I assumed the piece celebrated maple leaves.

Somewhere in my education, I learned that in music, the term “rag” as a musical style referred to its ragged, syncopated rhythm ---and

so I still associated the piece with the trees, because maple leaves have ragged edges.

But the composer, Scott Joplin did have a job playing at dances at an establishment in Missouri called the "Maple Leaf Club" so it’s likely, though not certain, that the piece has nothing to do with celebrating maple leaves. But maple leaves should be celebrated.

Throughout the summer, tree leaves are full of sugars and gums and tannins. As we ease into autumn when the chlorophyll stops

functioning, in most trees, the sugars and also the minerals migrate from the leaves into the tree roots for winter storage.

Maple trees are different. During the growing season, the roots of maple trees absorb nutrients from the deep in the ground. These minerals are drawn up into the leaves. Maples store food in their roots (think maple sap and syrup), but some sugars and minerals remain in maple leaves.

So unlike other autumn leaves, when the colorful maple leaves fall, the minerals pulled from the deep underground the previous summer will fertilize the surface of the forest floor. And that is something to celebrate.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.