On September 9, 2020

The simple beauty of autumn foliage in Vermont

By Merisa Sherman

It all starts with a single leaf.

There she would be, lying alone in the middle of a parking lot or a field. Without any of her friends around her and oftentimes no discernible origin. It’s usually a day with just a little breeze, a touch colder than normal but with enough oomph to pluck the one leaf from their tree and send them floating along through the air like a paraglider. And then there it lies, such a small piece of nature having finished its journey.

But it’s not the journey of the leaf that prompts the man to pick up the leaf, spinning the petiole in his fingers. It’s the color.

It could be any color, or a myriad of colors, for the leaf itself is no longer the characteristic vibrant green that defines the Vermont mountains. It could be a creeping red, with the veins turning a vibrant yellow or even half the leaf still green. Or the leaf could be all red, having been burnt to a crisp by the hot summer sun until it finally dried up and fell from its branch. But the first leaves to turn, the ones that started popping this week are gold.

And not just a simple, dull gold. A vibrant gold, one that stands in stark contrasts to the dulling greens surrounding them. Just a few branches on random trees littered throughout the state, these golden leaves seem to attract the sunlight, glistening so much that they can blind the driver focused more on the mountains than the road. These are pops of gold rather than entire trees, just a small taste of what the next few weeks will bring, but they mark the beginning of the greatness that will come.

You can watch for the pops of yellow while paddling along, perhaps even seeing the reflection of color in the waters, the colder breezes bringing changes to the texture of the water and air as well. It doesn’t seem as heavy as you pull your paddle through the water, and your breath seems easier as the hot summer sun fades away to the coolness of pre fall. The hiking is no longer a sweaty mess, but an enjoyable walk under the changing canopy.

You can see the yellow tipped leaves fluttering the in the wind, still attached to their branches as you ride by on the motorcycle. Mountain range after range floats by as your ride along, the patches of yellow amidst the dulling green mark the beautiful change that is coming. Perhaps it’s even time to start checking on your favorite tree, the one next to that old stone schoolhouse, that illogically turns color before any of the others.

Some years ago, I was listening to an interview with a foliage scientist on VPR, and he literally said they know HOW leaves change color but even after decades of study, they still have absolutely no idea WHEN this will happen. What an amazing thing for those of us lucky enough to live here and watch the daily progression of time: there is literally no way to explain the timing. Foliage is not something that can be explained; foliage is something that has to be experienced.

Oh to experience this phenomenon firsthand, to see and feel the world literally changing around us each morning. This week, mowing the grass also involved blowing leaves around for the first time this season. I was captivated by their motions, their varying colors and crispness as they floated along in the man-made breeze. I almost wanted to get my leaf blower out just to play and hopefully get some leaves stuck in my hair. Instead, I watched them all get caught on the ribbon of grass between the two wheel ruts on our driveway, turning the green stripe into a multicolored swathe. Pure beauty.

Only a few months ago, we set and watched the lawn turn green while the buds popped on the trees. Now, we anticipate the myriad of bright foliage colors that will turn our entire state into a postcard. I wonder which tree will have turned color since yesterday? Will there be a few more bright yellow leaves popping out in the sunshine? Will there be more leaves on the ground today? I wonder if I’ll find a new leaf for my leaf collection or if that tree will be as vibrant as last year? So many questions that can only be answered by the passing of time.

And so we wait and observe, enjoying the simple beauty that is autumn foliage in Vermont.

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