In its brief lifetime, the leaf is an admirably productive member of the living community, making food (glucose) by mixing sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. In this process, photosynthesis, the sun’s energy is converted and made usable on Earth.
As summer fades and autumn grows stronger, the leaf dies, but does so beautifully. Chlorophyll, a green plant pigment important in photosynthesis, disappears, revealing red, brown, yellow and orange leaves. Eventually, wind, rain, ice and other agents of autumn pull it from the tree and send it wafting earthward.
The patchwork of colors and their graceful fall delights the spirit as well as the eye of the observer. Enthusiastic admirers of this autumn ritual are called leaf-peepers. They visit upstate New York and New England in legions every autumn. Most people travel to their favorite fall color destinations by car, but some travel on special bus or train tours. We are at peak of the season here in the four-county region.
For some, there is beauty enough in visiting a small rural town and drinking in the scenery from the porch of a cozy bed-and-breakfast. Leaf watching is free and fun if you just want to go for a walk, or a run, or paddle in a canoe all by yourself.
Artists, both professional and amateur, flock to scenic spots in the autumn to paint and take photographs. Bicycle enthusiasts can tour area roads on their own or in organized groups.
A ride on horseback through wooded trails features maximum leaves and quiet companionship.
There are some events associated with leaf-peeping that cost a little something, but are well worth considering. Two of those are taking leaf-peeping to the rails, on the Delaware and Ulster Railroad in Arkville or the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad in Milford. For more information about DURR, call (800) 225-4132 or (845) 586-DURR, or email email@example.com, For the C&CV, visit www.lrhs.com or call 432-2429.
A birds-eye view of the leaves can be very adventurous or mildly adventurous. A trip in a small private plane affords a spectacular view of the colorful patchwork below. The truly adventurous (and skilled) might consider hang gliding. The website www.ushpa.aero provides a list of area clubs for information on locations (such as Stamford’s Mount Utsayantha) and necessary permissions.
For those interested in being high up, but not quite that high, many ski resorts open their ski lifts for the foliage season. Four resorts in the Catskills — Belleayre, Hunter, Plattekill and Windham — will be open for such rides. The resorts will also feature children’s activities, plenty of vendors, and, at Windham, fireworks. Hunter hosts Octoberfest this weekend. Belleayre, on the border of Delaware and Ulster counties, will host its 33rd annual Fall Festival & Craft Fair this weekend as well.
How to best enjoy the changing and falling of autumn leaves is up to each person. But, surely we can agree that there is something especially enchanting about one particular image. That image is of a couple walking through a forest of falling leaves, their arms and hearts entwined. They do not speak. The memories of their moments together hold their words back.
There was a hit song in the 1950s on the topic called “Autumn Leaves.” Nat King Cole sang it. The falling leaves were the wonderful, but short-lived, memories the two had shared.
“Since you went away, the days grow longer
“and soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
“But I miss you most of all my darling
“When Autumn leaves start to fall.”