“In October the great restlessness came, the Zugunruhe, the restlessness of birds before migration. After a long, unseasonable hot spell, one morning dawned suddenly cold. The birds were excited, stammering new songs all day long. Titmice, which had hidden in the leafy shade of mountains all summer, perched on the gutter; chickadees staged a conventicle in the locusts, and a sparrow, acting very strange, hovered like a hummingbird inches above a roadside goldenrod.
I watched at the window; I watched at the creek. A new wind lifted the hair on my arms. The cold light was coming and going between oversized, careening clouds; patches of blue, like a ragged flock of protean birds, shifted and stretched, flapping and racing from one end of the sky to the other... but those winds and flickering lights and the mad cries of jays stirred me. I was wishing: colder, colder than this, colder than anything, and let the year hurry down!
I stood under tulips and ashes, maples, sourwood, sassafras, locusts, catalpas, and oaks. I let my eyes spread and unfix, screening out all that was not vertical motion, and I saw only leaves in the air -- or rather, since my mind was also unfixed, vertical trails of yellow color-patches falling from nowhere to nowhere. Mysterious streamers of color unrolled silently all about me, distant and near.”
-- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (HarperCollins, 1998 -- originally published in 1974)
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Given that we’re living in times when unusual weather has become the norm, the wide temperature swings we’ve had since mid-August aren’t altogether surprising.
We had some delightfully cool hikes the second half of August and first half of September -- after which totally summery weather returned for several weeks.
The result of the late August chill was one of the earliest starts of fall foliage in memory, with bright colored leaves appearing along the trails in early September.
Not surprisingly, the resumption of much warmer temperatures then brought the color season temporarily to a halt (after the already-colored leaves had fallen).
Leaves that were still green have remained so considerably later than usual, and now a range of color has returned to many of the mountain areas where we hike.
As usually happens, we saw some absolutely lovely foliage on our 10/6-9 camping trip in the Adirondacks, probably the most impressive colors we’ll see this year. Fortunately the wide temperature swings hadn’t undermined the color show.
Elsewhere the beauty of the foliage has varied. On hikes the past two weekends the foliage has been nice but not especially striking, a mix of color and brown leaves.
But we were surprised by a range of brighter colors on yesterday's (Sunday's) 10/22 easy hike in NJ's High Point State Park, the best we've seen on a day hike so far. It's possible that we'll find similarly lovely colors on next weekend's hikes in CT & NJ.
The remainder of foliage season seems likely to last later than most years, and it’s possible that we could be seeing some color on our hikes as late as mid-November.
If you want to see some color this autumn, RIGHT NOW is almost certainly the best time to go. Remember that by the time the leaves turn in Central Park, they’re usually on the ground in the mountain areas where most of our hikes take place.
As I commented a few weeks ago, there’s also a lot more to autumn than colorful foliage. It’s simply a wonderful season for hiking, as many of you would agree.
Conditions for mountain exercise couldn’t be better with crisper, cooler air. And even when the leaves are down, the natural world remains the loveliest of places.
-- Charlie Cook