Every year during the fall I find myself in a consistent conversation – either with someone else or with myself in my own head. “Is that peak?” “Wow, that’s peak.” “That’s not peak yet, but it’s close.” After all, the peak of leaf season is something we all want to see.
I was driving across Route 3 from Watertown this past weekend and every bend in the road offered a new stage of the process and a new blend of colors seemingly topping the last. But there was always that question, “Is it peak here?” After all, finding the peak leaf season is an inexact science. Leaf change is initially subtle and then cool nights bring forth the underlying colors which always seem to catch me by surprise.
I have heard some folks talk about peak as if it was some individual and finite moment in time – a flash that fades soon thereafter. It can be easy to think of it as such – especially given the name “peak” itself – as if everything else is somehow downhill or less impressive. But it is not so simple – I think of peak as more of a wave. The colors grow, brighten, crest, and then slowly fade. This happens across the region and across the park, and each trail, lakeside, and mountain is different – meaning that peak leaf season moves through the landscape.
For instance, leaves generally change at higher elevations earlier than they do down low, and the colors slide down slope with the change in temperature. Trees in wet areas and places where they may be more stressed by environmental factors also change earlier. As such, peak moves through the region – again in waves – waxing and waning with cold nights and clear skies.
This year has been exceptional. Our leaves have changed into a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors, and our warm, clear days over the past week have given the hills and landscapes a blue canvas on which to paint their pigments. The clear skies are also notable for what they lack - rain. The lack of rain not only means there is great weather to get out and enjoy the leaves, it means they will cling to the trees just a little longer. After all, it is often cold autumn rains which come on cold autumn winds that drop the leaves from the trees, signaling the wind down of fall color.
The next few days are predicted to be clear weather and we still have several good looking days ahead to enjoy our peak season. After that it gets a bit dicier with light rain eventually moving into the region – it will be a question of how heavy the rains become. I plan on being outside on all of the upcoming days. After all, the peak of fall leaves can’t be captured in snapshots or witnessed solely by looking out your window. It must be explored and experienced firsthand. It must be seen in a valley below you, viewed directly above you, and enjoyed along a lakeshore. It must be heard beneath your feet and it even must be smelled.
In the end, the search for peak leaves is about the time it takes in searching itself. Peak season is not a fleeting, precise moment in time. It is an experience. An adventure of colors and texture. A dynamic process on the landspace. But it is available for a limited time only.