I’ve often read “If you want to learn about yourself, TRAVEL!” But it seems the opposite is true for me. I learn most about myself when I am immobilized. Sitting stationary at my friend Deb’s beautiful lakeside cabin for a month spending mornings watching the waterfowl and evenings sitting on the dock listening for loons brought about a lot of introspection…a little glimpse of what my life would be like if I were to ever stop my perpetual motion. I must be honest in saying “it’s not pretty.” It didn’t take me long for deadly routines and addictive behaviors to being to show themselves in the form of bingewatching hours of TV. Within a week, I had memorized the evening lineup, from Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room all the way to Late Night with Seth Meyers.
In the one month I spent at the cabin, I watched two Cat 5 hurricanes ravage my beloved BVIs. I watched wildfires wipe out entire sections of forests in the pristine PNW. I watched bodies being pulled from the rubble of a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in my beloved Mexico. And then, I watched people scramble for their lives in the worst mass shooting slaughter in memory. And I topped it off each night with 180 hours of real, palpable pain revisited from my childhood, glued to Ken Burn’s PBS Documentary on the Vietnam War. With each nightly episode, my mood got a little darker as I slid down the rabbit hole. Time to roll…
I hung out in Maine longer than I had anticipated, trying to wait out the fall foliage change. It was reported to be a particularly vibrant year due to all the rain this past summer. It was just getting started during my visit to the White Mountains. On my hut to hut hike in the Presidential Range, autumn was starting to tease with vibrant twinges of red and gold like accessories from the latest fall collection. So I decided to return to the cabin and wait another couple of weeks. As much as I flipped for Newfoundland, I don’t expect I will be back in New England for awhile, so I figured I may as well stick around for the fall show.
But time is running out, as I need to start my southerly migration soon. Meanwhile, news reports continue to say the foliage change is late this year….much later than usual. We should be approaching peak season along the Maine / New Hampshire state line about now, but only a few trees are starting to reveal a hint of their typical vibrant colors.
In leaving my friend Deb’s cabin after enjoying my own version of “Walden” for a month, I decide to make my southerly migration via the circuitous route up through Vermont. Surely, if there is going to be fall color, it will be Vermont! After all, the first image that comes to mind at the mere mention of the state is the splendor of autumn….the radiant reds, brilliant oranges, and dazzling golds of the sugar maples surrounding tall spires of New England churches, lining Main Streets of quaint, Norman Rockwell towns, brisk breezes billowing fallen leaves behind as I drive along scenic lanes.
So I head out via the “Kanc” as it is locally known, the Kancamagus Scenic Byway across the White Mountains National Forest. This 36 mile stretch of winding highway through eastern New Hampshire is known for its leaf peeping potential. From there, my plan is to head north through Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, then across to Montpelier and Stowe.
The early September drop in temperatures across Maine and Vermont got the color change off to a good start, bringing promise of a banner year. Foliage forecasters were hopeful that the cool, wet summer would produce spectacular October foliage.
But then the unimaginable happened….three straight record-breaking days of temperatures over 90 degrees! Instead of sipping hot apple cider and pulling out the sweaters, I find myself sweating more than the glass holding my ice water. Yep, in the northernmost corner of the US, just minutes from the Canadian border, we’re having an “unpresidented” heat wave. Complete Chlorophyl Climate Confusion! The bizarre weather patterns that had brought me blue skies and shorts weather atop Mt Washington, a summit otherwise known for the “worst weather in the world,” had also robbed autumn of its colorful cloak.
Fall foliage needs a special combination to put on a spectacular show; longer nights and classic fall weather…warm (not hot) sunny days and crisp, cool nights above freezing. When foliage begins to change, trees cease operations in their “food factories.” It’s that loss of chlorophyll that reveals the orange and gold pigments in the leaves. But while most of those pigments are present throughout the year, it takes the cooler weather to activate the further chemical changes, the production of red anthocyanin pigments. This traps sugars (i.e. in sugar maples) to give the brilliant orange, red, and purples of a quintessential autumn in New England.
Due to the heat wave, my fall foliage had been foiled! Or at least temporarily. Foliage forecasters used words like “fried” and “crispy” to describe the early turning leaves, now brown and fallen to the ground. What color change left on the trees was now muted tones….hills of green, dotted with a few dull browns and dusty oranges.
After reports of traffic jams in and out of Stowe and hour long waits before 11:00am at the microbrewery I planned to visit, Alchemist, I decide to forgo the obstacle course of Stowe, and instead turn south at Montpelier. However, all is not lost, as I pay a visit to nearby Waterbury’s most famous residents….Ben and Jerry. After all, nothing says “autumn” like an ice cream cone on a 90 degree day….in October…in Vermont.