Oct 07 2010

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Peak Foliage

Posted at 3:29 pm under Blog Post

People talk about peak foliage as if there’s a week, a day, or an hour when the autumn colors are their most brilliant, when they can’t get any better.  I’ve been listening to this kind of talk for over thirty years, and I’m more certain now than ever that it’s absolute nonsense.

I suspect that the people who invented peak foliage are also the ones trying to convince the world that the colors in New England can’t be beat.  Okay, I admit, the fall foliage is beautiful here – especially in Vermont in early October.  It’s as good or better than anything I’ve seen elsewhere, thanks to the climate, the soils, or whatever.  But peak color?  C’mon now.  That’s taking the advertisement a bit too far.

Fact is, each species of tree has its own way of turning, and each individual tree follows its own timetable.  Much depends upon latitude, elevation, terrain, whether the tree in question is healthy or stressed, and whether the tree is rooted in wet or dry ground.  Add to these factors the variances of weather from year to year, from week to week, from day to day even, and that magic moment of peak color is anyone’s guess.

At best peak foliage is only a rough estimation of when the autumnal colors should be optimal, based upon the law of averages.  At worse, it’s just an excuse to keep from fully enjoying what is right before ones eyes.  A tourist chasing leafy rainbows is a sad thing to witness, especially when so much natural beauty is overlooked along the way.  Better off to completely disregard the color change and take each day at face value.  In that regard nature rarely disappoints, here in New England or anywhere else, in autumn or any other season.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love to see the color in the trees when the green washes out.  I love the brilliant reds and oranges of maple trees, the bright yellows of birches and beeches, and even the more muted reddish-brown color of oaks later on. I love to watch the leaves rain down with a strong gust of wind, then settle on the ground inches deep in places.  This is one of the reasons I live in this part of the country.  The seasonal change is dramatic here, with nature always providing something new and interesting to see.  But don’t ask me if the fall colors have reached their peak yet.  I’ll say that you just missed it, that it happened five minutes ago.

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