Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Truffle Shuffle

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Tulsa Street 2021.

What do you think of when you hear “Truffle Shuffle?” A Michelin-trained team of chefs and wine experts who prepare food on TV? A video clip from “‘The Goonies” showing Chunk exposing his belly while shaking his body? A deck of cards in which each card is printed with a different chocolate truffle? A brand of food that sells Balinese Truffle Salt, Truffle Carpaccio (real Italian sliced black truffles), and Brown Butter Truffle Honey? A welcome doormat that says “First you gotta do the truffle shuffle?”

Nope. The real Truffle Shuffle happened outside Stillwater, Oklahoma on November 7, a warm-ish breezy clear day. Oklahoma State University could be seen in the distance. Fields and trees were connected by rural roads of dirt and asphalt. Clare Paniccia (completed her PhD in Creative Writing at OSU last year) presented the Truffle Shuffle out in the middle of practically nowhere. One hundred and twenty bicyclists gathered along one stretch of gritty red road, many decked out in outlandish costumes. A few even had little dogs in their back packs with one dog wearing its own set of goggles. Little Red Riding Hood rode her bicycle with her blue-eyed huskie “wolf” running by her side.

The reason for the bike race was….no real reason. It was a bringing-together of the cycling community of riders, families and dogs to have a fun one-hour race. The course was basically a gravel course with some demanding hills. At any time, a rider could be pulled to sit out the rest of the race on the sideline. Hydration came in the form of red Solo cups filled with beer handed out by volunteers as riders rode by. The race was monitored by Clare in white angel wings and her helper in shiny black togs wearing Devil horns on her head. When Riding Hood started the race, her huskie led the way. Toward the end, Red was going slow and the Huskie slower.

When the raucous race finished, an awards ceremony of sorts was held for the best costume and top remaining riders. People had already lined up for plates of huge BBQ ribs, pork, turkey, grilled Mexican street corn, black beans and rice krispie bars catered by This Land BBQ. Groups sat in chairs, on the grass and along the road to chat and eat. It was a cool time. Missed the Truffle Shuffle? Next scheduled gravel ride is February 13, 2022.

The leaves put on a beautiful show this year, depending on where you were. Orange carotenoids, red and purple anthocyanins, and yellow xanthophylls, the four primary colors in a leaf, danced through the trees. Chlorophylls usually mask the hidden pigments until the amount of daylight diminishes to the point trees know it is time to shut down for winter. We see green because chlorophyll best utilizes red and blue wavelengths of light, but little green is absorbed with the rest reflected. As the chlorophylls break down, we are treated to autumn tree rainbows.

In extreme eastern Oklahoma, the deep drought hung on too long and the rains that came last month did not salvage autumn color. The trees went from dry green to brown, with a few yellows and reds thrown in. Along the 54-mile trek of the Talimena National Scenic Byway, colors were best the second week in November. A bit late this year due to warmer weather. The Kiamichi Mountain sweet gums added their red, orange, yellow and purple charms. If you want a tree with fall leaves of all the colors, sweet gum is your tree, but if dry, most leaves turn bright yellow.

In northeast and central Oklahoma, colors began to surface just last week. Sumacs strutted their bright red leaves. Even the oaks leaves sparkled when the sun hit at certain angles. Identify trees this time of year by noting the color of their changing leaves. Hickory leaves are bronze. Bald cypress leaves go to coppery bronze. Ash, birch, poplars, mulberries and elms all have different intensities of yellow. The ancient Gingko leaves turn golden yellow, then boom, all fall off at the same time. Red maple leaves are, well, scarlet red. Sugar maples can be orangey red. Then there is the Caddo Sugar Maple.

Autumn Sumac.
Truffle Shuffle 2021.

The Caddo Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) ‘Caddo’ isolated itself in a canyon in western Oklahoma. No sugar maple in its right mind would live there, but the Caddo, unlike other sugar maples normally found in their native range in the northeastern part of the US, is able to withstand high temps and drought. During fall, the Caddo leaves turn yellow or orange. The occasional surprise tree may have red leaves, something plant growers have capitalized on. Autumn Splendor is a cultivar from Caddo seeds with leaves that go from yellow to orange to red or a combination there of, ‘John Pair’ is smaller and fits into tighter landscapes, and Flashfire Caddo Sugar Maples are select seedlings with leaves that turn brilliant red in early fall.

The Caddo Sugar Maple likes full sun and well-drained soil. The tough tree with leathery leaves can tolerate even alkaline soils. The Caddo holds onto its leaves through the winter, the reason some plant it as a windbreak. This maple was named an “Oklahoma Proven” tree in 2010, proving it can survive the Oklahoma climate!

Native persimmon leaves go straight to bright yellow with an orange-red tinge. The noxious Bradford pear, which at my house continually shed its leaves for months, has dazzling orange, red and deep purple leaves. Too bad the Bradford pears that recently bloomed at the Shawnee Mall will miss their autumn finale. Sycamore leaves turn yellow and rapidly advance to crispy brown. Ditto for cottonwoods. The willow is one of the earliest trees to leaf out (light green) and one of the latest to lose leaves (again light green turning to yellow).

This week, and every week, give thanks. Gratitude lifts the spirit and increases happiness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.