Longing For Fall Foliage? Too Late.
There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who will travel hours to gawk at autumn leaves.
And those of us who won’t.
Yet the whole world seems to agree that if you want spectacular foliage, there’s no better place to find it than in the western part of Virginia. During October and November Skyline Drive is packed with slow-moving vehicles full of “leaf peepers.” (A term that annoys me even more than when adults describe food as “yummy.” No, I can’t explain why.)
I’ve never been a leaf peeper.
Yes, I find autumn magnificent. Who doesn’t? There must be something hard-wired into human DNA that tells us the colors of fall are comforting and that also blocks us from thinking about what comes next: bare branches and bone-chilling temperatures.
I got my first taste of fall back in September in Montana. The quaking Aspens of Glacier National Park splashed the mountains with a shimmering shade of yellow.
Then I came home to six weeks of summer heat, humidity and mosquitoes. I forgot all about fall.
But for the past couple of weeks I found myself looking longingly at Instagram shots of brilliant leaves from around the country. Shoot, autumn is enough to make places like Pennsylvania and Delaware look good.
I woke up one day last week with an inexplicable longing to see those change-of-season colors.
Good luck doing that in Tidewater.
If there’s one drawback to living in coastal Virginia - besides the clowns in local government - it’s an absence of fall foliage. Yes, I know, that one stretch along Shore Drive is pretty. Oh, and there’s a telephone pole near my house covered in some kind of vines - poison ivy, probably - that turns crimson every fall.
Yet admiring a single telephone pole on a sandy street is not the same as gazing at a forest painted in reds, yellows and burnt orange. Our sturdy live oaks, swaying pine trees, magnolias and phony palms stay green year round and deprive us of any striking autumn palette.
A small price to pay to live near the ocean, but a price nonetheless.
Last week, when the weather was predicted to be sunny, I’d changed my oil and had nothing else to do, I asked my daughter to grab her Nikon and drive with me to the mountains.
We’ll get a nice photo essay out of it for the website, I promised. A Thanksgiving week gift for our readers!
I checked with the Virginia Department of Forestry - a deceptive branch of government, if ever there was one - and learned that while Virginia’s “peak color” was past, there was lovely foliage to be seen between Stanardsville and Sperryville. About 200 miles away.
Here was the leaf report for the weekend of Nov. 10th, six days earlier:
Autumn took its time arriving this year, but there’s no doubt of the season now. The highest mountain areas are beginning to brown and lose their leaves, thanks in part to recent rains. But many mountain areas below 3,000 feet are at peak color this weekend, including much of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah Valley.
The Piedmont also offers colorful viewing this weekend.
Red and sugar maples are waving bright flags of orange, pink and red, while hickories have melted into clear golden yellows. Interspersed with the green of pines, these trees create blocks of color that rival a crazy quilt. Don’t forget, oaks tend to color later, and their best hues are still to come.
The closer we got to Stanardsville - site of the Battle of Stanardsville, a “minor skirmish” with an “uncertain outcome” during the Civil War - it was obvious that the foliage would be minor as well.
Red and sugar maples were not waving bright flags of orange, pink and red. Their flags had fallen. Or were the color of dung.
A winter storm earlier in the week apparently had its way with the crazy quilt. Instead of an explosion of warmth, we encountered a monochromatic landscape of icy trees and downed power lines.
We were ice peepers.
But I planned a photo essay today - and drove more than 400 miles to do it - so here it is: