2013 has arguably been one of the most amazing autumns on record here in the White Mountains.
The success of leaf peeping is based on two factors: intensity of color, and the amount of leaf drop. You can have gorgeous color, usually precipitated by warm days and cold nights; but if there is wind or rain, it might cause most of the leaves to drop from the trees, thereby hastening the end of leaf peeping. If the nights are too warm, or it’s too cloudy during the day for prolonged periods, the colors will be blah.
October was unseasonably warm and clear, yet the nights were cold enough to help with leaf coloration. Unusually, there was almost zero rain and no wind – -which meant the leaves “aged” on the trees and changed from their full gamut of green to red to orange to gold and yellow without any noticeable thinning.
Another factor in my favor was that I was able to return to Maine a few days before the colors changed. This year, the Jewish holidays (Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah) were “early” relative to the Gregorian calendar. Usually I return to Maine around mid-October, when the colors are well past their peak; this year I was back at the end of September. What a difference, color-wise, those two weeks makes!
I was hoping for an especially colorful autumn this year because not only would I be here for its entirety, I was also entertaining guests from Israel.
Historically, the Land of Israel had been covered in deciduous forests and woods, but through the centuries various conquerors – – Romans, Crusaders, Turks – – had decimated its forests, leaving the land bare. What American Jew who went to Hebrew School or Sunday School in the 1960s and 70s, doesn’t remember donating a few coins into a little “pushka” (charity box) from the Jewish National Fund every week? The money raised would go to reforesting Israel, transforming the barren land green. While the program was largely successful, the JNF almost exclusively planted a single type of scrawny non-native pine tree, which was drought-resistant, could survive in poor soil, and grow quickly. What they didn’t realize is that it is a fairly short-lived tree, and useless for fuel or lumber. Today Israel still must import all wood products, and the oaks, cedar, ash and cypress of Biblical times is extremely rare. (More common are fig, olive, palm, acacia, and the above-mentioned non-native pine trees.) Because of the abundance of evergreens and the dearth of deciduous trees, not to mention the mostly-warm autumn season there, fall colors are unknown in Israel. Therefore it was a special thrill for my Israeli visitors to experience the change of colors in the White Mountains.
HaShem was good to us. Not only did we get wonderful colors, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was unseasonably warm. We rode to the top of Mt. Washington on a day with 100-mile visibility and almost no wind (nearly unheard of for Mt. Washington, which is home to the country’s wickedest weather).
The entire coloration process is nothing short of miraculous, really. While scientists understand the process of fall color, the reason for it remains unclear, despite many theories. Truly autumn is a beautiful gift to us from The One Above.