I take this photo of the trees behind my office every year. Come October, I stare and stare, finally walk out of the office in back of the house and take the same photo again and again.

The reds are gorgeous, but I am drawn most to the yellow and orange leaves. The red leaves are made during fall, but orange and yellow have been in the leaves all season long and only become visible to us when the chlorophyl of summer begins to disappear.

You might say that the leaves are finally showing us their true colors.

They need to produce green chlorophyl for photosynthesis, which results in oxygen for us and sugar for them. But as the fall season brings less sunshine, these processes can no longer happen; the green disappears, and instead the vibrant yellows and oranges appear. Colors beyond needs, beyond fulfillment, their true colors. And then the leaves begin to fall.

What is my true color?

“I’m looking for a black and brown dog,” I tell the people I meet on dog walks

Elise McMahon, a highly respected dog trainer in our area who trained our previous generation of dogs, told me that May and October are the worst months for losing dogs. She breeds Briards, which she lets off leash in the woods throughout the year except in May and October. “There is so much animal activity in those months that the Briards go crazy,” she informed me.

Sure enough, since the beginning of October, it seems as if Aussie disappears each time we take a walk. She chases deer with her high-pitched, excited cries (“Me Aussie, big game hunter!”), rabbits and foxes, sometimes it seems as if she chases the air. She could be gone for half an hour and find me no matter where I am.

A black and brown dog. Are those her true colors? I see the black and brown, a little white on the stomach, but I don’t think of her like that at all. What’s the color of quiet intelligence? Of running freely in the woods, tail waving like leaves in the wind? Of standing blissfully in the pond, water licking her chest? Of sidling over to my hip as I sit in my office around 4 pm, mewling a reminder that it’s time for her early supper?

Somewhere there are her true colors; black and brown say nothing.

Henry, the Illegal Chihuahua, has excellent recall so I never have to ask people: Have you seen a small yellow beige dog? Which is good, because yellow beige are not his true colors, either. For Henry’s true colors you have to look into small, dark brown, flashing eyes, feel the weight of 15 pounds leaping across the room, up the bed, and landing smack on your chest in the morning, or hear the snarl when he tosses Boo Boo the bear, Yogi’s friend and Henry’s latest toy, up in the air. You have to see the color of mayhem.

Bernie’s true colors had to do with denim. Not just because he wore jeans every day of his life but because it was also the color of jackets, work, comfort, and cigars. It was the color of neatness. His true colors also had to do with bushy eyebrows, a sprightly step, and stooping shoulders.

Our pine trees, of course, remain green over the winter. It’s easy to overlook them and oooh and aaah over the colorful maples, but green isn’t their true color, either. Theirs is the color of resilience, standing tall guard over ancient forests, the shade of silent winter watchfulness, of holding space till spring.

My sister is here this week. Her hair is blonde to my light gray/brown, redder cheeks, longer fingers. We are sisters; what are our true colors? I don’t know, only that they have to do with coffee, talk that starts and goes nowhere, slower walks than usual, perfect understanding, sherry at dusk, and bouts of high, hysterical giggles.

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