Posts Tagged ‘Fall’

Leaf Peeping 2013

Basin Pond, Evans Notch Oct 17, 2013

Basin Pond, Evans Notch Oct 17, 2013 (Make sure you click this photo to see an enlarged version.  It is really gorgeous!)

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.

Basin Pond

Basin Pond

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Basin Pond

Basin Pond

Basin Pond

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Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Kewaydin Lake

Kewaydin Lake

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).

Mt. Washington on a very clear day, seen from below

Mt. Washington on a very clear day, seen from below

About halfway up the mountain on Mt. Washington Auto Road, looking down

About halfway up the mountain on Mt. Washington Auto Road, looking down

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.

The trees on our street in Maine

The trees on our street in Maine

An abandoned barn just up the road from my house

An abandoned barn in Evergreen Valley

To Every Thing, There Is a Higher Purpose

The last days of August were a flurry of activity as we prepared to leave Maine.  We would be returning to our home town for the month of Jewish holidays:  Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

I realized it was a week of “last chances” – – places to fish and swim; because upon our return in October it would be too cold to take a dip in the lake and fishing season would be over until ice fishing season began on January 1st (something I haven’t yet attempted).

I knew I wouldn’t have much luck fishing at Horseshoe Pond, but my rod and reel anyhow served only as an excuse to paddle my kayak around this beautiful place.  As its name indicates, it is shaped like the letter “U;” I paddled from one end to the other and back again.  I was the only one on the lake, alone in my thoughts on a warm and glorious day.

Horseshoe Pond

Horseshoe Pond (click to enlarge)  My house (not visible)  is just behind the middle hill in background.

I went for a walk with my dog near my house.  The foliage in the woods was so thick; yet despite the warm temperatures the air felt different, truly like the end of summer.  I noticed the sugar maples were just starting to turn, a few giving coy previews of the glories soon to come.

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Soon we passed the old West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse.  It was established in 1860 during Stoneham’s heyday, when the land was settled by farmers and loggers.  Shortly thereafter the population dwindled, victims of poor soil for farming; industrialization in the cities that offered better paying jobs; and the Spanish flu, which decimated entire families in this region.  Even though it was always small – – in 1880 the population was 475 souls – –  it’s hard to imagine our town as once bustling (the 2010 census indicated there are 237 residents, with a density of 7 residents per square mile). Yet in the late 1800s there were five such one-room schoolhouses spread throughout Stoneham.  Today the West Stoneham schoolhouse has been modernized somewhat and is used as someone’s summer cottage.

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The (former) West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse, ca. 1860

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Click to enlarge and see a closeup of W. Stoneham schoolhouse’s commemorative sign

On Friday morning, I decided to go fishing one last time at Virginia Lake.

While I was threading the worm onto the hook, I thought about how we humans tend to think of worms and bugs as the earth’s lowliest creatures.  Yet where would fish and birds (ergo us humans) be without them?  Although they may be an annoyance to humans, worms and insects clearly have a crucial purpose in life as part of the food chain and we would be lost without them.

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(It did not take long before the fish began biting. I caught seven: one was a yellow perch which is not a good eating fish; 2 were too small to keep; but four white perch were just the right size for our upcoming Shabbat dinner and lunch.)

While swatting mosquitoes back at home, the “bugs are beneficial” concept was further driven home by the arrival of the Bee Man.  He was there to harvest this year’s honey crop.  As noted in this article in the Portland Press Herald, this year’s honey crop was one of Maine’s all-time worst.  The Bee Man told me that he averages 1400 lbs of honey per year from his dozens of hives in bee yards spread over a 20 mile radius.  Last year he harvested 1700 lbs.  But this year, he will be lucky to get a meager 500 lbs.  The reason was mostly weather related:  bees prefer hot, sunny days, and 25 days out of 30 in June were rainy, with July and August not faring much better.  The bees were “thin,” he said, and not only could he not harvest whatever little amount of honey they had produced, he would have to add sugar cakes to the hives to feed them supplementally, lest they starve over the winter.

As I stood talking to Bee Man, I was busy swatting the bugs, and I pointed out that his bee suit was covered with gnats and mosquitoes.  “It’s about time!” he said with a smile.  “I’m telling you . . . something is going on.  Yours is the first place I’ve been to today that’s even had bugs!”  I frowned but Bee Man smiled.

“Usually when I empty the hives, I see a lot of ants.  This year I didn’t see any!  And if there aren’t ants, then there are earwigs.  But no earwigs this year, either.  Yep, definitely something is going on, and it’s not good.”  Translation:  pesticides have been introduced to some farms in Bee Man’s area.  True, there are fewer bugs, but the hives are in danger of colony collapse.  For Bee Man, bugs are a measuring stick for the health of his bees . . . and ourselves.

The lowly insect  – – something so small and seemingly insignificant (not to mention annoying) – –  is in fact not inconsequential at all.  Everything, and I do mean everything that was created by G-d has purpose and meaning and is part of a Greater Plan, even if our small minds cannot grasp it.

Seen in this light, even a gnat can inspire us with awe.

It is said there is no such thing as an atheist farmer, because despite his best efforts, he is at the mercy of the forces of Nature, and he recognizes that ultimately his success is up to G-d.  May the New Year reignite our sense of awe and wonder and appreciation of all the good that has been bestowed upon us, and instill us with clarity to recognize Truth.