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Every year it's the same. Soon after the kids go back to school and the summer complaints go back to where ever they came from, folks in the media start writing and talking about leaf season – like we’re doing now.
It's called by different names - foliage season, leaf-peeper season, but it refers to the same activity, which, put simply, involves driving around and staring in amazement at dead leaves.
Many people plan their annual vacations for mid-September through mid-October and drive thousands of miles across North America, over majestic mountain ranges and across mighty rivers just to be here in northern New England when our trees shut down for the season and stop making chlorophyll. With no chlorophyll to compete with, the other pigments in the leaves can finally shine, if only for a few weeks.
Our green and black ash, basswood, beech, birches, butternut and elm will turn yellow; our box elder, mountain, silver, striped and sugar maples turn red along with our mountain ash, poplar, serviceberry, willow and witch hazel. Black, red, scarlet and white oak, hornbeam, sumac and tupelo will turn red and our black oak will often turn brown.
It's a great show and I enjoy it as much now as I ever did, but I guess it's because I live here I'm able to control myself about it. I can look at a stand of beech and witch hazel and manage to keep my heart rate and blood pressure stable. It's a good thing for Maine's economy, though, that trees in other places can't put on the same brilliant show.
Looking at leaves is a big business here in Maine. A lot of otherwise successful people have spent a lot of time and a lot of money attracting the people who like to drive around or stand around looking at our leaves in fall.
The Maine Department of Conservation manages millions of acres of forest land and that means - among many other things - they have lots of leaves under their jurisdiction for leafers to look at.
Go to their website ( and you'll find more than any healthy human being should know about the act of looking at leaves. There's even something called a “foliage forum” where foliage folks, people who go loopy over leaves, can go and share favorite leaf-peeping spots and private foliage experiences. Those with way too much free time can share thoughts on foliage seasons gone by and reveal fantasy seasons they'd like to be part of.
Our Department of Conservation is on job, releasing weekly foliage reports during the season. Where do they get these reports? Overworked forest rangers, who are supposed to be looking after Bambi and Thumper, are asked to stop attending to their duties in the field, sit down in a nice comfy chair someplace and look at all the leaf trees in the immediate vicinity to assess the amount of color change and leaf drop that has occurred since their last assessment.
Once filed and posted these reports represent the official word on foliage conditions in the state of Maine and are provided to the public and media.
It's surprising that so much fuss can be made about the act of watching brightly colored dead leaves as they fall. But then, an equal fuss is made over Niagara Falls, and that's just watching water - fall. I hear a lot of people have been known to watch that over the years, too.
OK, I’ve been over there and watched it too and it is pretty impressive.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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