Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Searching for Color

You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.  
― Ernest Hemingway, "A Moveable Feast"

I don't know when this ritual of looking for trees filled with dying, colorful leaves began. Doubtless, the good people of Vermont knew a good thing when they saw it, drawing those of us in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere up to New England to drive around, stay at a hotel, help the local economy and watch leaves color, die and fall without our having to sweep them up.

Ashokan Reservoir, Catskills, NY, Oct. 2017
(Margo D. Beller)
Watch a weather forecast and there's someone telling you which areas are "peak" or close to it. Look online and google "fall foliage" and see what you find. Regional websites, weather websites, tourist websites all trying to draw you to their regions to look at the colorful, albeit dying leaves.

This week I've swept dozens of long, hard, black pods from the black locust tree to the curb to allow MH to cut our lawn one last time before the raking begins. Plenty of leaves and pods to come. I can put some leaves into my compost pile but my pile is only so big and there is always too many leaves.

Rondout Reservoir during a brief moment of sunshine.
This and Ashokan are among the reservoirs that supply New
York City with water. (Margo D. Beller)
In my part of NJ this year the color isn't all that good. Yes, the dogwoods, Virginia creeper vine and some maples are showing red, some of the elms are starting to go yellow and some of the white oaks are going brown. But the overall picture is one of rain-starved trees trying to drop dully, tattered leaves as fast as they can to save energy and thus themselves for next year.

Yards with yellow and red maples are already covered with leaves so thick you can't see the grass. The whine of the leaf blower is heard throughout the land.

And yet, here was MH and me on a recent Sunday driving north to the Catskill Mountains, looking for color. Any excuse to get out of the house. Most of the day was cloudy and breezy and far from the expected 80 degrees, thankfully. At Rondout Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains of NY, a source of NYC's water, there suddenly appeared cormorants, common loons and ringbilled gulls in the water, and a shrieking redtailed hawk over my head.

Below, in the still-blooming daisies and goldenrod were Monarch butterflies. These delicate creatures were holding fast to the flowers in the breeze. They are flying south to Mexico for the winter, an amazingly hard journey for these little fliers.
(Margo D. Beller)
Rondout was our birdiest stop. The other reservoir we visited, Ashokan, had a great blue heron but not much else. As MH persisted in telling me, this was a leaf-peeping trip, not a birding trip. I watched the scenery go by and every so often got a surprise, such as the mature Bald Eagle sitting in a tree over the Neversink River or the female Common Mergansers in a pond near where we stopped to stretch our legs.

But color? Not so much.

Meanwhile, back at home, we've had a spate of clear, sunny, warm days and cool nights. More leaves are turning color. But is MH satisfied? Of course not, and when you read this we will be on the road again, this time in another state, looking for that mystical "peak."

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