Monday, October 18, 2010

Following the Foliage

My father "follows the foliage." Ideally, this means that in September, he would head north where the colors are first coming on, and then work his way South as the colored leaves move through the state. The plan never quite works out this way, but over a few weeks, depending on the weather, he catches as much of Autumn's brilliance as he can. And then there is that blessed time when it's right in his own yard.

I realized a few years ago that I am also nuts about colored leaves. Living within the city of Albany, where Norway maples make a good showing, but don't actually turn until mid to late October, I am on pins and needles that I might miss the colors elsewhere. I know that when I can see the leaves out my window, they will be down outside of the Hudson Valley. So I better get out even though it's still green at my house.

This year, I missed them in the northern Adirondacks, but with a week of blue-sky crisp days recently, I did what I could to satisfy my craving wherever I went. In Cooperstown a couple of weeks ago, heavy winds and rain had brought many leaves down, but here and there a few beautiful trees made me glad I was walking, not driving! Driving with my head swiveling from side to side is not recommended.

Not long after, I was visiting my parents in Saratoga. I had a few hours in the afternoon on a crisp 60 degree day. My father was ready in minutes when I suggested we go to nearby Shippee's Ledge, a mile-long walk with 250 feet elevation gain in the Town of Day. Shippee's Ledge has to be the biggest "bang for the buck." With views from a rocky promontory down to a branch of the Sacandaga, the half-hour hike on an old logging road is a perfect short outing.

On this day, clouds came and went. As each patch of blue opened and the colors below sparkled, another cloud followed. I had a hard time tearing my father away as he waited for "just one more" break of sun in the clouds. Watching the moving shadows on the hills, he would pick out a patch of color that he needed to see next in its sunlit glory. I had a rehearsal in the evening, and had to go. It took me a half hour to pull him away, and who wouldn't want to stay watching this brilliance return and retreat with each gap in the clouds?

My friend, Rachel, and I get together rarely for a hike. An Adirondack 46r and Northeast 114r, who feels like her hiking days now are very limited, she longs for more hiking opportunities. An annual family trip into Marcy Dam on Columbus Day keeps her hopes up that someday her young daughter will want to do the big mountains with her.

We set aside a day that proved to be cloudless and in the 50s, perfect hiking weather. On the phone, we decided that we would go "somewhere near Lake George." "Okay," I said, "I'll drive and you can study the book and map on the way." How could we go wrong on this day? Everyplace would be beautiful. We debated the East or West side of the lake, and chose the Tongue Mountain Range. Neither of us had been there in decades. It would be fun to explore and views would be crisp.

Despite not hiking often these days, Rachel is a fast and strong hiker. She is also a great conversationalist, so I let her talk, while I huff and puff behind her! Seriously, she sets a good pace, I get a workout, we catch up on the news, and we see some beautiful Adirondack scenery. Here she is on the overlook near Five Mile leanto looking West towards Gore Mt.

In fact, we didn't exactly know where we were going. We had missed the first trailhead and had begun at the northernmost part of the Tongue. Heading south, we were never sure when we had reached our destinations. Now we know--Five Mile Mountain is a great destination. Its rocky outcropping facing Lake George and looking East is a perfect lunch spot. We stood and admired the view and then said, "should we go farther?", "are we where we thought we should be?", "maybe the view opens up wider on a bigger summit."

We decided to go "just another half hour and then turn around." After a steady downhill, we turned around, and had our lunch overlooking hills of color. Back at Five Mile Mountain, we admired the green-blue of the lake, where one boat made a white trail below. Only large areas of evergreens broke the peak fall foliage.

The next day, we again had heavy rain and wind. Some of the leaves in my neighborhood blew off in swirls. But my Norway maples?--mostly still green. This year, we had to have one of the two maples in front of the house taken down, and the other lost a few big limbs. Usually, when the leaves have fallen off every tree in town, mine are bright yellow. In the upstairs bedrooms, on a sunny day, a soft yellow glow permeates the rooms. This year, I wonder, are there enough branches of the tree left to shed a glow inside the house?

I miss having two maples out front. I used to look up my street lined with gold. We do still have a mammoth maple in the back. The leaves from this tree, that I used to rake into monster mountains for the kids to jump in, now cover all of my gardens for the winter.

This season, I have done my best to "follow the foliage," and there is still more out there. The Northway in Colonie is a panorama of color, spots of brilliance line the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, and glow in Washington Park. And when it is all gone, we'll have a period of brown and gray in the Northeast and then some snow. After that, I'll be marking my calendar for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing when the ground is covered in white and the sky is blue.

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