Tag Archive 'fall foliage'

Oct 14 2020

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The Smell of Autumn

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As I have grown older, I have learned to be more flexible. I had planned on driving over to the Adirondacks this week for a daylong hike, but the scratchiness in the back of my throat convinced me that it was better to go for a much shorter outing close to home. So this morning, after a round of writing, I went for a walk in the local town forest.

Immediately upon leaving the parking lot, I looked up to see hundreds of tricolored blackbirds passing through the canopy. How uncharacteristic, I thought, but they are probably migrating or getting ready to do so. It is, after all, that time of year.

While tramping along the trail, I noticed that the understory was mostly green even though the thinning foliage in the canopy had already turned and was past peak. Most of the color was on the ground: fading yellow, burnt orange, and brown leaves covering the forest floor. Earlier than expected. It has been an unusual year in that regard.

I inhaled deeply, taking in the tannic, leaf-rich smell of autumn as I walked. There is nothing else quite like it. In the spring, and even well into summer, the forest smells mostly of pollen and humus-rich soil – especially after a good rain. Pleasant enough but nothing like autumn. This leafy smell is the smell of the growing season coming to an end. It inspires reflection. To smell this, I mused, is reason enough to go for a walk this time of year.

I broke into a cold sweat during the last leg of my walk. This was a sure sign that I had made the wise choice by going out for only an hour or so. My body is just fighting off a head cold, I told myself, but there is a much greater threat afoot this year. So I drove home vowing to take it easy the rest of the day. No sense pressing my luck.


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Oct 03 2020

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Restless in Autumn

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For six days in a row, I have been all wrapped up in my philosophical speculations, writing about Nature spelled with a capital “N.” Haven’t gotten out for much more than the occasional walk around the neighborhood in the process. Well, this morning I finally put on my boots and headed for the hills – for nearby hills to be exact.

French Hill is a pocket of undeveloped woods only half a dozen miles from my home. After parking my car along the side of a road adjacent to it, I walked a track a quarter mile back. Then I started bushwhacking. Most of the time I hike well-established trails like most other hikers, but every once in a while, I need to get off the beaten path. Bushwhacking is the best way to do that.

With a large pond in sight, it was easy to keep my bearings. I have done this tramp many times before so I knew that all I had to do was circumnavigate the pond and I’d eventually hit the track leading me back out to my car. Simple.

With the sky overcast and temps in the 50s after a day of rain, the woods were cool and damp. Not that I minded that. I stopped once to ritually burn a copy of a book that I’ve recently published, but stayed on the move otherwise. The hike kept me warm.

Just north of the pond, I came to a smaller annex pond created by beavers a few years ago. Unattended and overgrown with grass, cattails and other vegetation, I couldn’t see the dam at first. But when I finally found it, I crossed over with little difficulty. I stopped on the dam long enough to enjoy the fiery orange, gold and rust foliage on the far side of the larger pond. Here in the Champlain Valley, the autumn colors are nearing peak. Stick season can’t be far away.

Finally returning to my car, I drove home feeling much better. Writing about nature is like scratching an itch. It’s rewarding to do this kind of writing, but there’s nothing like the real thing. Have to get out every once in a while.

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Oct 15 2019

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When the Foliage Peaks

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The setting sun illuminates the treetops and suddenly the sugar maples in my backyard are a fiery orange. If I were looking at a picture of these woods, I’d assume it had been photo-shopped. But I’m seeing this with my own eyes.

It’s a hallucination of color – the kind of thing that folks in the big cities to the south drive hundreds of miles to see. I just happened to step outside at just the right moment in the day, in the middle of the foliage season here in northern Vermont. We’re getting towards the end of the season, actually. The trees here in the Champlain Valley are the last to turn, a week or so after the foliage peaks in the higher elevations. That’s one of the things about fall color that makes it so elusive. It happens at different times in different places. Chasing it can drive a person crazy.

But here I am, standing in my backyard, still coughing after a week in bed with the flu, thinking that I’d missed my chance to get out and really enjoy the color. Here I am surrounded by peak foliage that’s completely illuminated. It’s a lucky break to be sure. And one that brightens my outlook while I am sandwiched between sickness and grief after the recent loss of both of my parents.

I have stepped into the light. Once again I am reminded how beautiful the natural world is, how absolutely phenomenal its most commonplace occurrences can be. It is good to be alive.

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Oct 24 2018

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First Snow

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The first snow of the season always comes as something of a surprise, but when it comes in October it’s downright shocking. Snow is to be expected in the mountains this time of year, powdering the summits as a fair warning of things to come. But here in the Champlain Valley, it’s rare to see the white stuff accenting the brilliant reds. oranges and golds of autumn, while leaves are still clinging to the trees.

It was beautiful to behold – a light flurry of snowflakes falling to the ground early in the morning, slowly accumulating. It didn’t last long. By noon most of the snow had melted away in temps well above freezing. Now in late afternoon, sunlight finishes the job, illuminating the foliage and thereby redeeming the season. Still I can’t help but brood over the rapid passage of time. The clock on my computer screen conspires with the calendar on the wall to keep me off balance in my gathering years. And now this!

One shouldn’t take it personally, of course. Father Time, unlike Mother Nature, treats us all the same way. But the seasons slip past faster in our advanced years than it does in our youth. It’s hard to keep pace.

I don’t remember how it came up, but this morning my wife Judy asked me if I fear death. My answer was ambiguous. “Yes and no,” I said. Being the cognizant, self-aware creature that I am, I naturally fear death. I know its coming and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. That said, more than death I dread the prospect of living to a hundred. There’s a time to live and a time to depart. I wouldn’t want to be immortal.

All Hallows Eve is right around the corner, followed by the Day of the Dead. Different cultures call it different things, but it amounts to the same thing: a time to stop and remember those who have passed away. Darkness pervades as winter approaches. The harvest is nearly complete. Soon we will hunker down for the long cold season. This is a good time of year to reflect. It’s also a good time to put on some blaze orange and go for a hike – while there is still soft earth underfoot. There’s no time to lose.

 

 

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Oct 13 2018

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A Fairly Good Hike

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I thought I could fake out my old dog Matika by taking her for a walk in a nearby park first, but I had my hiking boots on so she expected a lot more. After the walk, while I was back home taking care of business, she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. Finally I patted her on the head then left without her. I had in mind a hike that I knew her hind legs couldn’t handle.

Mt. Philo was on the way to Vergennes where there was a book sale going on yesterday afternoon. Yeah, it was a combination work/play outing. I’m doing more of those these days. Was the book hunt an excuse to go for a hike, or vice versa? Good use of gas money, either way.

The parking lot at the base of Mt. Philo was full. I soon found out why. While a few patches of green lingered in the canopy here and there, the autumn color was fast approaching its peak. A thin layer of fallen leaves covered the road climbing to the top of the oversized hill. Too beautiful for words, really. I took it all in while ignoring the steady stream of people. Usually I hate hiking busy paths. This time I didn’t mind it.

I barely broke a sweat during the mile-long, road-grade ascent, but it was still the most rigorous hike I’d done in a month or two. Mt. Philo is a monadnock – what used to be an island in an interglacial sea – so it rises quite dramatically from the Lake Champlain valley floor. When I reached the top, I gazed across the sprawling lake and rolling farmland below to the not-too-distant Adirondack Mountains. A great view for relatively little effort.

The descent went quickly. Soon enough I was driving again and attending that book sale. I collected a box of new inventory for my book biz then headed home. The traffic going into Burlington was pretty intense but I didn’t care. I had squeezed in a short hike during a workday and was feeling very relaxed as a result. Not the kind of deep woods outing I prefer, but good all the same.

 

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Oct 04 2018

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Reflection and Walking

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It has taken nearly a week but I’m back into my routine now. Back to writing, publishing, and running my book biz. Back to cooking, hanging out with Judy, and going for the occasional short walk between errands. Two weeks ago, I drove to Ohio to visit family and friends. That took something out of me since I do not pace myself when traveling alone. It feels good to be back.

The leaves are turning. Cool temps are common now. The days are noticeably shorter. All this is to be expected when we turn the calendar to October. Still I am a little shocked by it. The clock ticks away while I’m busy doing stuff, and I’m left wondering where the days have gone. That’s especially true this time of year, when the rows of pumpkins at the nearby farm stand make it clear that the growing season is over.

My eyes feast upon the splashes of color in the trees as I walk the Rail Trail. Most of the trees are still green but that’ll quickly change now. Note to self: take down the air conditioner still protruding from the bedroom window. Yeah, those days have passed.

I stop several times just to look around. Blue asters still bloom along the trail’s edge. Most other wildflowers have withered away. Still a touch of goldenrod, of course. And a few fallen leaves. I walk in shirtsleeves because, well, because I can. Not too many of these days left, either.

We all know what’s coming. “The long white,” a friend of mine calls it. The colder half of the year is when I do most of my writing. I look forward to that. But I’m also thinking I should go for a long hike or two soon, very soon – before the snow flies. October is a good month for that kind of thing. October is a good month for reflection and walking.

 

 

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Nov 08 2016

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Late Autumn Walk

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late-autumn-woodsEven though I have plenty of work to do, it’s simply too nice a day to stay indoors. I ask my dog Matika if she thinks we should go for a walk and, well, she’s all over it. So we head out.

Not in the mood to drive anywhere, I walk through local woods and along back roads. This isn’t the wild forest I prefer, but it’ll do for now.

With temps reaching into the 60s, shirtsleeves is the way to go. Late autumn light illuminates leaves still clinging to tree branches. At midday the sun is pretty bright. Yet long shadows make it clear what time of year it is.

I kick up a few leaves as I walk. It seems the thing to do. The woods are golden brown. Quite beautiful, actually.

I amble along as if I have all the time in the world. In a way I do. The difference between rushing and not rushing on this two-mile loop is only ten minutes. I can certainly spare that.

Back home, I pour myself a cup of cider to celebrate the season properly. Then I open the windows before setting back to work. But there’s a chill in the air that I hadn’t noticed while walking. The windows won’t stay open long.

 

 

 

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Oct 18 2016

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Autumnal Bliss

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fall-color-lookoutThe trees surrounding my house look like they’re on fire, making it hard to concentrate on work. With temps shooting into the 70s by noon, this may very well be the last warm day. So I don hiking clothes and head for a pocket of woods I haven’t seen in a while: Niquette Bay State Park.

In the mood to make tracks, I shoot down the trail at a good clip. My dog Matika keeps up with me despite the many interesting smells along the way. Even though I’m stripped down to a t-shirt, I break a good sweat while going uphill. Looks like autumn but it feels like summer.

A strong wind blows through the canopy overhead. Leaves rain down – the season being true to its name. The path underfoot is covered with them. The forest is all green and gold. The afternoon sun burns brightly through it, casting long telltale shadows. Winter isn’t far away.

After cresting the hill, I come to a lookout with a good view of Mt. Mansfield in the distance. But more impressive is the color in the hills close by. The fall foliage is peaking in the Champlain Valley right now, a week or so behind the higher elevations. My eyes soak it in.

Back home a little later, the sky suddenly darkens as the front blowing this way brings heavy weather. For the next few days gray skies and rain will be the rule. So I’m glad I got out when I did. A little autumnal bliss goes a long way.

 

 

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Oct 06 2016

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A Touch of Wildness

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town-forest-pond-early-octThe smell is the first thing I notice, stepping into the local town forest. It’s the smell of withering ferns, newly dropped leaves, and something distinctly autumnal that doesn’t quite sync with the mostly green canopy overhead. It all comes as something of a shock. Is it that time of year already?

My dog Matika and I amble down a trail still muddy from the previous day’s rain. Impressed by the recent trail work, I wander in circles while tracing three of the four blazed paths here. The late afternoon sunlight penetrates the shadowy forest in places. I glide along effortlessly, moving in and out of it.

Surprising silence. No birds singing out, no chirp or chatter, no wind. Suddenly it feels like I have stepped out of time and am now walking through another dimension. I start daydreaming. Startled frogs jumping into water snap me out of my reverie as I approach the pond…

Still pond gathering light from a clearing sky. Brilliant fall color just now coming out. But there’s something else going on here – a slow and subtle end to all growth. Too soon it seems, greenery lasting not more than six months at these latitudes. And yet it’s all right on schedule. Nature adheres religiously to its own rhythms.

Climbing a gentle rise away from the pond, I break a sweat despite the cool air. I’m moving faster now, heading back to my car at the trailhead, back to the work at home that still requires attention. It’s like that sometimes. I start leaving the forest behind before even stepping out of it. Yet my blood is up now, so a touch of wildness will stay with me a while longer.

 

 

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Sep 08 2016

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First Color

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early-fall-colorI can’t believe it’s that time of year already. I look up while running my errands and there it is: a sugar maple starting to turn. Busy with moving, renovating the old place, and cultivating my book business, summer went by even faster than normal. Now here it is autumn.

The first sign of it came last month while I was hiking in the mountains with my grandsons. Hobblebush leaves were turning reddish-brown then – a sure sign of what was coming. Wood asters, one of the last wildflowers to bloom during the growing season, appeared in my back yard as well. And the crickets have been noticeably noisy for a while now.  Yeah, there has been plenty of warning. Still… I can’t quite wrap my brain around it.

Autumn in Vermont is always something special – there’s no doubt about that. I look forward to the crisp cool days, bug-less hikes, and the kaleidoscope of color. I’m returning to my literary work, too, after a four-month intellectual drought. But those of us who live here in the North Country are always a little sad to see summer fade away. The growing season is short in these parts. We never seem to get enough of it.

That said, I’m enjoying these last few barefoot days and consuming as much fresh produce as I can. The trees are turning but it takes a month or so for Mother Nature to change her seasonal garb. No sense getting ahead of ourselves. The present is all that really matters.

 

 

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