The Transcendent Adirondack Autumn

Island on Lower Saranac Lake, by MWanner, Wikimedia Commons

The governor himself declared it: “Fall color is either at peak or near peak.” I’d call it near peak, at least in the High Peaks and northern Adirondacks. Visiting Boreas Ponds in the town of North Hudson over the weekend, Andrew Cuomo also said, “If you live in New York State, there is no reason that you need to leave New York State to vacation.”

As it happens I did leave New York to vacation over the weekend. I went to southern Vermont to visit a friend. The leaves down there are still green but the region is gearing up for its peak tourism season. It’s clear, gratingly clear, that people inside the Vermont bubble think they own fall foliage. And maple syrup. And moose. Stuff we have in the Adirondacks but haven’t branded as successfully.

What Vermont can legitimately claim offsets its foliage brilliantly are farms and white steeples. Adirondack mountains are higher, but Vermont mountains come right down to the edge of a field. A foreground of rolling monochrome against pulsating gold and red is car-stoppingly beautiful. Airy views are punctuated by barns, cows and little town squares with white-trim-on-white-clapboard churches.

What the Adirondacks can legitimately claim offsets its foliage brilliantly is water—3,000 lakes and ponds and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams by most estimates. Our towns may not be as tidy and our farms fewer and farther between, but the reflection of autumn glow off cold black water doubles the effect. If you canoe out into the middle of the color, it can be overwhelming.

“The colors are just indescribable,” Governor Cuomo told reporters Sunday. “You can’t really paint this picture. Mother nature has a better brush. And you couldn’t do it with words. Many have tried.”

The rewards of going into the woods this time of year are far more than aesthetic. Autumn is the best time to learn trees, identifying where they grow by observing color patterns from a mountaintop, or by keying out leaves you pick up along the trail. “Legends of the Fall,” published by Adirondack Life in 2008, can help you get started.

If you are tree-obsessed like many Adirondackers I know, Plants Are Cool, Too is a fun new video series you can watch on YouTube. It’s by former SUNY Plattsburgh professor Chris Martine, who now teaches botany at Bucknell University. In one episode he cracks open rocks in Idaho to observe, astonishingly, actual fall color on actual 15-million-year-old leaves.

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