As the dogs and I left the porch last Sunday for our morning walk, I took notice of the thick layer of white pine needles carpeting the steps and the walkway up from the drive, all from a single tall tree near the house. White pines, as well as other conifers, do this in the fall, some years dropping only a few needles or spreading the needle drop over several weeks so that the overall effect is less noticeable. But this year it seemed to happen overnight, softening the footpath with a blanket of light brown needles.

Dixie and Reilly gave me little time to dwell on this event. Dixie, a 10-year-old black lab-German shepherd who lately moves around the house like an arthritic old — well, like me on a bad day — found a spring in her step, jumping up and down as she barked, “Come on, let’s go!” while Reilly the Brittany rounded the corner at the end of the drive and headed down the dirt road toward the nearest culvert. Reilly is our neighborhood’s Chief Culvert Inspector.

It was early morning, the sun just rising above the tree line along the Union River flowing about 100 yards or so to our left. At the precise moment when I looked up into the clear blue sky ahead, a shaft of sunlight struck the crown of a tall white pine and transformed it to gold.

More precisely, except for a cluster of dark green needles at the tip of each branch, the remaining needles, those soon to fall, became golden. In decades of observing pines in the wild and in gardens around the country, this was a first, a perfect synchronization of season and light.

I leave my tale of this autumn adventure for a few paragraphs, informing readers who have never paid much attention to such things that needle drop in conifers is a normal annual event. We call conifers with noticeable needle drop, such as our native white pine and Eastern white cedar, evergreens because they keep one or two years of needles through the winter, but like our deciduous hardwoods, these conifers are programmed to shed their leaves, if only gradually.

Actually, Eastern white cedar, which is also called arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis, sheds entire branchlets, but not before the individual scale-like needles turn a rich red-brown color that lasts for weeks before the branchlets drop to the ground. We have a tall arborvitae at the back edge of the vegetable garden that takes center stage in October, providing cause for frequent pauses in garden work to enjoy its annual performance.

Every October, university extension offices around the country assure concerned homeowners and gardeners that there is nothing wrong with their pine tree, that needle browning is a normal annual event in a conifer’s life. Some species, like most firs and spruces, drop their needles a few at a time, while pines drop two- and three-year-old needles each autumn.

There are insects and diseases that can cause needle drop in conifers, but these events occur at any time during the year and can involve needles at the branch tips. Normal seasonal needle drop occurs in autumn and never involves needles at the branch tips.

Now, back to my tale, rudely interrupted by fact. Of course, I had to get a photograph of the golden pine. I remembered that my camera was still in the car, so I headed back to get it, the dogs confused at having their morning romp interrupted. I grabbed my camera from the car and announced, “Let’s go for a walk!” They both gave me the hairy eyeball.

The light held and some of the shots were decent. In years to come, if I’m lucky, I can look at the photos and remember it all, the golden pine, the clear blue October sky, and the dogs. Always, the dogs.