Lauren R. Stevens: Don't be distracted from fall's wonders

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Attending too much to the news, some of us may have missed out on the joys of the season, but chances remain. We should acknowledge that as far as the weather goes in these parts, we had a fine late summer and early autumn. Yes, we were distracted by events local, national and global, but we have enjoyed about the best that the season provides: cool nights and clear, warm days. No frost through the first week in October. Rain that, for the most part, kept discretely to the nights. I disclaim responsibility for any change in the weather as a result of my saying so.

I have a fair weather alarm system. When a cool night follows a warm day, a ground fog rolls down the hill behind my house. It creeps in the open windows and sets off the smoke alarms, just the way my shower does if I fail to turn on the exhaust fan. I don't recommend hearing "Evacuate, evacuate!" at 4 a.m., but it does lessen the shock to know the promise of that shrill warning.

The first six years I lived by the little brook it dried up every summer. Last year and this it ran all summer. Part of the delight of this autumn is that lawns never browned; gardens continued to flower. I only rarely had to water the vegetables, which continue to supply me. The cherry tomatoes keep coming; in fact my plant has climbed over six feet high, fruiting above the level where the deer can reach.

Harvest. Fall. Weather. Leaves. Those go together, like cider doughnuts and . . . almost anything.

We will soon or perhaps we already have seen articles predicting the amount of color this autumn and the date when it will be at its best. On cue, tourists pass through our towns after starting in Vermont, say Manchester, and hoping to ride the crest of the color wave as it moves south. They come in cars, buses and odd bus-like recreational vehicles towing other cars.

The publication date of this column, Columbus/Indigenous Peoples Day, pretty well coincides historically with autumn color — in North County at least. We hear the term "peak color," although I'm not sure what that means or how it would be measured. There are factors both objective and subjective, with the latter perhaps more important. The best color appears when the weather is good for viewing it, as in sunny and clear.

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I was up on East Mountain recently, where the blueberry bushes create a startlingly red carpet, especially in comparison with the pale yellow leaves of the striped maple. Color is where we find it, such as the crimson sumac along the roads and the red, red maple by streams and ponds. We shouldn't limit our experience to the gold and vermillion of sentinel sugar maples along our byways — just as well, since those maples are under severe stress.

Vines carry color, sometimes reaching up the utility poles. We need to look up and down to the understory as well. Euonymus or burning bush, while frowned upon as an invasive shrub, provides autumn flames in abundance.

As the season winds down, the withered leaves of oak and beech, hanging on, will rattle in the northwest winds. Their darker shades are part of the autumn color wheel as well, extending into the winter.

It's true, distractions continue and, with September/October, a note of sadness is always present. A: What is this world coming to; and B: The days grow shorter and autumn's ease will end. Maybe we need an alarm to remind us of what's outside now.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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