Tag Archive 'fall foliage'

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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Oct 06 2015

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That Time of Year

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RT fall foliageSeems like the autumnal color is a week or two late, and not nearly as vibrant as it has been in the past. Chalk that up to a run of hot days in September, I suppose. But that doesn’t change the fact that the leaves turning is as inevitable as the days getting shorter. It is, after all, that time of year.

Taking a break from work at midday to walk my dog Matika and stretch my legs, I meander along the Rail Trail for a while. The contrast between remnant summer-like green leaves and the gold, burnt orange, and rusty ones gets my attention, emptying my mind of business matters – at least temporarily. Time marches along, as the seasons attest. We are wise not to ignore it.

A caterpillar labors in front of me. Squirrels race across the trail, gathering their winter foodstuffs. The other day I saw a telltale V of geese leaving Canada. No hard frost yet, but a thin coating of it covered the top of my car a couple days ago. Yeah, we’re getting there.

On the Rail Trail, a young woman breezing past on a bicycle notices me taking a picture of the colorful foliage overhead. “Finally!” she says gleefully, “Getting rid of the green!” I don’t share her enthusiasm. The warm season is never long enough for me.

In a month or two, I’ll be missing the color of vegetative growth. Then again, seasonal change is nice. I wouldn’t want to live in Florida. I just wish it didn’t all happen so quickly. It’s hard keeping up.



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Oct 21 2013

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Autumn Walk

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Autumn trailThanks to recent strong winds, most of the leaves are down now. I kick them up as I walk, stirring up memories of greener days as well as the pleasant, dry rot smell of foliage becoming humus. I revel in it.

These are golden days – a feast for the eyes. Yet the long slumber is fast approaching, as shadowy trunks of largely denuded trees attest. The sun rises reluctantly these days and sets surprisingly fast. But that only makes the warm glow at noon seem all the more precious. It’s the season of mixed feelings to be sure.

I walk in shirtsleeves, breaking a sweat that chills me when I stop. This is sweater weather but I’m not ready to go there yet. Haunted by memories of winters past, I cling to any hint of summer. The slightest leafy green in the forest understory encourages me to do so.

My dog Matika frolics through the forest, finding new and interesting smells everywhere. Meanwhile I slip in and out of the abstract. Lost in thought, I barely notice the rummaging squirrel or the V of geese honking overhead. Turning inward now. I do my best writing during the colder half of the year. Being an outdoor/nature writer for the most part, the irony of this is not lost on me.

Towards the end of my walk, I feel a sense of urgency similar to what squirrels, geese and other wild creatures must feel this time of year. What do I need to do to prepare for the dark months ahead? I’ve gathered books like nuts, and cleared away as many distractions as possible. I’m just about ready to sit down to work, to reactivate the life of the mind. My warm season frolic is almost over.



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Oct 04 2013

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Autumnal Reverie

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InBkRes OctoberOn a perfect day in early October, it seemed a crime to stay indoors. After running errands in Burlington yesterday, I drove out to Indian Brook Reservoir for a midday walk. I had my dog, Matika with me, of course.

I didn’t realize how tightly wound I was until I put a half mile of trail behind me. By then the dryleaf smell of the woods, the incessant, high-pitched trill of crickets, and the multicolored foliage had worked their magic. My nerves unraveled.

As I walked around the far end of the reservoir, I started daydreaming. Or was it just my overactive mind sorting things out and settling down? Whatever. The result was the same. By the time I had passed the beaver ponds and was heading back towards the parking lot, I felt strangely calm. Didn’t even mind the many people and dogs encountered along the way.

I often write about the healing power of deep woods and the perspective gained by sustained exposure to the wild, but one doesn’t have to go to such great lengths to benefit from nature. Sometimes an hour walk in a park on the edge of town will do.

Time obsession is the great plague of our culture. We scramble to make the most of our time. We multi-task. We cram our days full of activities. There is never enough time. And when finally we do relax, we usually do so with some intoxicant and/or electronic media. But it is never quite enough. Only fresh air and a little sweat does the trick, really. Amazing how easy it is to forget that.



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Oct 15 2012

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Precious Days

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A few days ago I hiked around Indian Brook Reservoir, immersing myself in autumnal color. Yesterday I did it again on Aldis Hill, enjoying the not-so-subtle hues of the season despite the chilling air and thin drizzle. Rain or shine, the New England forest is magnificent this time of year.

At the hotel where I work evenings, tourists have been inquiring for weeks about that ever-elusive phenomenon called “peak foliage.”  I have done my best to point them in the right direction so they could snap their postcard photos and experience technicolor ecstasy. But mine is an entirely different take on the season, where each step on this steady march towards winter is just as precious as the next.

Strong winds last week shook a lot of the most colorful leaves from their tenuous moorings, thus blanketing the forest floor. That works for me. I don’t care if the color is up there or down here. It’s all beautiful, and the pungent leafy smell is reason enough to ramble through the woods.

From the first color to the first frost and beyond, Nature slowly closes shop. The growing season ends and it is time to bring in the fruits of the land. The long siege is not far away. These are not days one should waste.

There will be some balmy days still, and here in the lake valley where I live some leaves will cling to branches for several more weeks. That said I have no illusions about where all this leads. So each walk I take is a joyful prayer of thanks. Every autumn moment is delicious. I harvest what I can.


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Oct 16 2011

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Autumn Walks

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It’s that time of year again.  The leaves are turning and tourists are streaming into Vermont.  Or has it passed already?  The foliage season is fast and furious, often leaving folks with the feeling that they’ve missed the better part of it.  That is why I made it a point to walk the Rail Trail several times during the past few weeks, camera in hand.  I wanted proof that I was there when the colors peaked.

Too warm, too dry, too much green this year.  Those were the common complaints.  A run of cloudless days made a lot of people happy, but the autumnal brilliance didn’t quite live up to the advertisement.  Mother Nature was off her game this year.  Not that many snapshots of blazing leaf color were taken.  Not as many “oohs” and “ahs” as usual.

A few days ago, the chilling October rains began.  Then a rowdy wind knocked some leaves off the trees prematurely.  Oh sure, there is still plenty of color – especially here in the Champlain Valley – but the season is past peak now.  And it won’t be long before all the trees are naked.  Like springtime, when the wildflowers bloom, this season is brutally short.

While walking the other day, it struck me how marvelous the world is – peak color or no.  Every day there is something special to see and feel.  And smell.  What I like most about autumn is the smell of fallen leaves drying out and rotting slowly.  Here’s the smell of eternity.  Here’s sensual proof of endless growth and decay.  But that can’t be packaged, can it?  I find this thought consoling.  It’s nice to know there’s at least one thing about the season that can’t be bought and sold.


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Oct 13 2010

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The Sheer Joy of It

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After dropping off my wife Judy at her friend Gina’s house in Stowe, I drove to a nearby trailhead.  I would hike in a mile or so, sit by a brook and scribble my thoughts in a journal for a while, then hike back out.  We’d all meet at a cafe a few hours later.  That was the plan, anyhow.

I passed a dozen other hikers on the trail during the first mile.  Had to collar Matika several times to keep her from bullying other dogs.  Not fun.  But the crowd dissipated during the second mile.  By then I was hitting my stride.  The day couldn’t have been better for hiking: cool, crisp and sunny with nary a bug in sight.  So I kept going.

By mile three, I had stripped down to a t-shirt despite the cool temps and was plowing through a green and gold forest that seemed to go on forever.  I conferred with Matika and she agreed that we should keep going.  Why stop now?  The dryleaf smell of high autumn urged me onward and upward.  The road-grade climb was easy enough, and the dull ache in my legs felt good.  I could always sit and write at home later when it was cold, rainy and overcast.  No doubt those days lie somewhere ahead.

The fourth mile slipped away.  By the time I hit mile five, I realized that I was committed to doing the entire eight-mile loop.  Fine by me.  I was hiking now just to do it, just to move, breathe heavily and sweat on a beautiful day.  I was hiking for the sheer joy of it.  Say what you will about the ever-elusive nature of happiness, about how hard it is to stay upbeat in a world like ours.  But for one long afternoon on a leaf-covered trail cutting through the Green Mountains, with birches, beeches and maples dazzling me with their autumnal displays, I was as happy as anyone dares to be.  Hell, I didn’t even mind the phone call that came from my concerned wife, right before I exited the woods.

That evening, my dog sprawled across the living room floor unmoved and I popped ibuprofen while Judy recounted the pleasant hours that she and Gina spent at the arts and crafts fair.  I was happy for her.  But there was no doubt in my mind that Matika and I got the better end of the deal.

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Oct 07 2010

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Peak Foliage

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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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