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The Encyclopedia of Fall: L is for Leaf Peepers

Every fall, New England experiences an explosion of variety and color. We’re not talking about trees; we’re talking about the people who come to look at them. For the uninitiated, here’s a basic introduction to leaf peepers.

Photo/Art by Mark Brewer

The Perfectionist
Like a knight searching for the Holy Grail, the Perfectionist is on a sacred quest for the ideal autumn tree: brilliantly colored, perfectly shaped, with perhaps a picket fence or white-steepled church nearby. The Perfectionist is often guilty of “hit and leaf” driving, so be on your guard.

The Arboreal Authority
A real know-it-all, this expert has an encyclopedic grasp of tree knowledge and a missionary zeal to share with everyone. He or she can often be seen anesthetizing fellow sightseers with a detailed explanation of why leaves change color (some nonsense about chlorophyll, carotenoids, and anthocyanins), despite the simple, obvious explanation: Leaves change color because it’s fall.

The Morning Glorier
This peeper read in a magazine that fall colors are best seen at the crack of dawn, when the morning dew catches the early light–proof positive that some people shouldn’t be allowed to read magazines. Sadly, the Morning Glorier often drags other, less-enthusiastic peepers along (see “The Kidnappee”).

The Slow Poke
This leisurely motorist thinks of himself as the pace-car driver for the entire leaf-peeper caravan, steadfastly refusing to pull over so that those with appointments sometime within this geologic era can pass. The Slow Poke is responsible for a large surplus of profanity on our New England roads.

The Malcontent
This foliage connoisseur is never satisfied with the current leaf crop, compared with some mythical standard only he or she can recall. Easily identified by vocalizations such as “If you really want to see color, you should go to East Milliwillitockset.”

The Senior Swarm
Senior peepers tend to travel in flocks, generally stopping to roost at whichever restaurant has the biggest buffet. Like wild turkeys, they may appear to be lost and often cause traffic slowdowns. Can generally be lured back to the bus with discount coupons.

The Kidnappee
A rare sight, he’s observed on leaf-peeping expeditions only when dragged there by someone else. Three varieties have been identified: the Teenageras disgruntleum–difficult to observe in the wild, often found lurking behind electronic devices; the Honeymoonus groomii, wishing he’d sprung for that Aruba trip after all; and the Relativa visita, who really doesn’t care about foliage but was too cheap to pay for a hotel and can’t complain.

The Peak Panicker
Worried about missing the peak, this foliage enthusiast checks weather maps, studies historical trends, pesters local tourism bureaus, and consults a Ouija board to determine exactly when peak foliage will occur. Last year, it was at 2:15 p.m. on October 9.

The Car Captive
This peeper’s joy is in the journey–which is why he never stops the car. His goal is to clock as many miles and tourist sites as possible. This isn’t leaf peeping; this is community service, something one does to atone for shameful shortcomings such as an insufficient devotion to the Red Sox or really not liking baked beans.

The Photo Buff
This peeper never actually sees any leaves except through the lens of his Nikon X-1000 DSLR OptiMax Blah-Blah-Blah. Descended from a long line of slide-show torturers, the Photo Buff posts his shots on Facebook, and, thanks to digital photography, he can take an unlimited number of them. The good news is, you can unfriend him.

The New England Newbie
The first-time leaf peeper–generally a transplant from some part of the country where the weather is monotonously balmy–can be easily identified by his repeated refrain: “Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow.” By the time the third or fourth snowstorm hits, it’s: “Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.”

The True Believer

Oddly, any of the previous species can undergo metamorphosis into this variety. Even the crustiest New Englander can be transformed by sunshine lighting up a stand of red maples along a country road. Long winters, blackflies, and the quadrennial invasion of political candidates don’t matter; a chance to see those colors makes it all worthwhile.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Ken Sheldon


Ken Sheldon


Ken Sheldon was a pre-med art major at the University of New Hampshire. The medical schools of America were not amused. After college, he worked in a clinic for migrant farmworkers in California, where he learned to speak Spanish poorly, sang old union songs, and once gave César Chavez a cholera shot. He went on to become a writer, editor, cartoonist, actor, novelist, singer/songwriter, playwright, and humorist. His humor column “Only in New England” appears in every issue of Yankee Magazine. He performs as Fred Marple from the town of Frost Heaves, NH, and writes suspense fiction as Michael Manley.

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