Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Peak Foliage Comes Late This Season

The autumn foliage in northwest Arkansas started out pretty poor this year. Maybe "pretty" isn't the best adjective: not as good as years past, not even close to memories of New England foliage, way below what I remember from 25 years ago in North Carolina. The maples and other in-town trees just didn't seem as pretty. Maybe it was the weather, or some kind of minor insect blight that kept the leaves from turning those nice fall colors.

I must describe a little for my readers outside of Arkansas. Our normal foliage here is not even close to as nice as other places. The locals ooh and aah over it, but it's bland. Oh, in the towns it's nice, where people have imported, planted, and cultivated non-native species that give color. But out in the country, in the hillsides above the farms, or where farmers haven't cleared, we have mainly oak forests. Oak leaves in these parts turn brown. Dull. Drab. You see an occasional birch, or something in that family, that turns yellow, but it is rarely a brilliant yellow. You have some hickory or other fruit trees that turn nice. They are beautiful to look at, and stand out among the drab oaks.

I try to tell people that they should imagine that one nice tree among a thousand, and what the hillside would look like if every tree on it were that color. Then they would know what the New England foliage is like. Actually, in New England it's a beautiful mix of colors, including some purple, and some evergreen trees among them. Just beautiful to look at at the right time, a mix of pastels and bolds.

The North Carolina foliage was different. When we lived in Bentonville, our neighbors had two large maple trees in the front yard that turned brilliant red, on fire. I told people to imagine driving the interstate and having both sides, every tree, just that color, mixed with an equal number of brilliant oranges. That's the North Carolina at peak foliage.

However, one thing we have going for us in the towns in the Ozarks is a more strung-out foliage season. Not all trees turn at the same time. Even the maples, in their different species, turn at different times. The oaks in their drabness trail most of the others. The late maples this year trailed the oaks. The Bradford pears, which are one of the preferred landscaping trees because of their early blooms, seem to trail the others. So part of our problem is the trees don't all turn close together. The colors, to whatever extent the trees give them, are spread out.

This year, the late turners have redeemed the foliage season, especially the late maples and the Bradford pears. They have been absolutely beautiful. Our commercial subdivision has beautiful, brilliant red maples on one side. Down every street in Bentonville and Bella Vista are lines of Bradford pears that are bright red mixed with orange, mixed with yellow, mixed with still green, all on the same tree. Beautiful. The oaks are brown as always, but as always the sun will catch those brown leaves and, for a brief time twice a day, make them appear an orange brown, and the oak hills turn beautiful.

Today it's raining, and I can officially say we are past peak foliage. Many leaves will fall. The color when I go out in an hour to go to the doctor will be not near as nice as it was yesterday when I went out for a meeting. But for the last two weeks, when it was supposed to be after the peak, it was the most beautiful.

Which gives me hope for a late blooming writer. Perhaps words cobbled together in a season many would think is past-peak can be found worthy to educate, entertain, inspire, and add a little beauty to drab lives. I hope so.

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