Every year it’s the same. Soon after the kids go back to school and the summer complaints go back to where ever they came from, folks in the media start writing and talking about leaf season – like we’re doing now.
It’s called by different names – foliage season, leaf-peeper season – but it refers to the same activity, which, put simply, involves driving around and staring in amazement at dead leaves.
Many people plan their annual vacations for mid-September through mid-October and drive thousands of miles across North America, over majestic mountain ranges and across mighty rivers, just to be in northern New England when our trees shut down for the season and stop making chlorophyll. With no chlorophyll to compete with, the other pigments in the leaves can finally shine, if only for a few weeks. Our green and black ash, basswood, beech, birches, butternut and elm will turn yellow; our box elder, mountain, silver, striped and sugar maples turn red, along with our mountain ash, poplar, serviceberry, willow and witch hazel. Black, red, scarlet and white oak, hornbeam, sumac and tupelo will turn red and our black oak will often turn brown.
It’s a great show and I enjoy it as much now as I ever did, but because I live here, I’m able to control myself about it. I can look at a stand of beech and witch hazel and manage to keep my heart rate and blood pressure stable.
It’s a good thing for Maine’s economy, though, that trees in other places can’t put on the same brilliant show. Looking at leaves is a big business in Maine. A lot of otherwise successful people have spent a lot of time and a lot of money attracting the people who like to drive around or stand around looking at our leaves in fall. The Maine Department of Conservation manages millions of acres of forest land and that means – among many other things – they have lots of leaves under their jurisdiction for leafers to look at. Go to their website (www.maine.gov/doc/foliage/) and you’ll find more than any healthy human being should know about the act of looking at leaves. There’s even something called a “foliage forum,” where foliage folks, people who go loopy over leaves, can share favorite leaf-peeping spots and private foliage experiences. Those with way too much free time can share thoughts on foliage seasons gone by and reveal fantasy seasons they’d like to be part of.
Our Department of Conservation is on job, releasing weekly foliage reports during the season. Once filed and posted, these reports represent the official word on foliage conditions in the state of Maine and are provided to the public and media. It’s surprising that so much fuss can be made about the act of watching brightly colored dead leaves as they fall. But then, an equal fuss is made over Niagara Falls, and that’s just watching water – fall.
John McDonald is the author of five books on Maine. His latest, “John McDonald’s Maine Trivia: A User’s Guide to Useless Information,” is now in bookstores. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.