Far Northern New England Racing Towards Peak
The calendar officially changes from summer this week, and for the past week or so, it’s finally felt like autumn. In one clearing sweep from a sharp cold front last Thursday, true New England fall-like weather has settled in. Out of the closets have come the fleece and flannel, as the morning air has a distinct biting chill. Afternoons have marked by light breezes under deep blue skies and bright, warm sunshine. My dogs dislodged the first mature milkweed seeds of the season, which took flight over a field of deep purple asters while they played. My home is filled with the sweet smell of the concord grapes rapidly ripening on the vines out back, and nearby apple trees are also at the ready. And in the highest elevations of New England, snow fell for the first time this season.
Another sure sign of the transition to fall is the morning mist rising off the still warm lakes and wetlands at sunrise. To me, standing on a lake shore on a misty morning, listening to the call of the loons, and watching a canoe emerge from the depths of the obscuration is as much a part autumn as the rich colors lining the lake. Not every morning is conducive for such conditions though, and I’ve found that two factors must be in place for the air to reach the dew point before dawn…clear skies and light winds. Under clear skies, the heat of the day is allowed to radiate out into space, whereas clouds act like a blanket trapping heat. Light winds limit the stirring of the air with warmer air just aloft, and therefore allowing the layer just above the lake to cool.
If a clear, cool, calm night is predicted, morning mist is likely. These conditions occur frequently in autumn, and incorporating morning mist into your fall photographs is a great way to add depth, isolate portions of a scene, and add mood. To catch this compositional component, you might have to get up early, but the trade off is the peace and solitude you find in simple, tranquil scenes.
This cool snap has also accelerated the color changes in our northern forests. Already now, areas above three thousand feet, and traditionally cool northern valleys are showing hints of the show to come. A few hillside maples now match their siblings in the swamps, and the golds of birches are starting to show on granite outcropping. This past weekend, I took my own advice in the previous blog and hiked high in the New England alpine zone, from which I could see the landscape for miles in every direction. Areas north of the notches are definitely far more advanced in color than those to the south, but that is quite typical in September. Below is a example of the early color from photographer Luke Barton, from south of Pinkham Notch in New Hampshire on September 18th.
The weekend ahead will be a benchmark for gauging the season’s color, as a few areas in the far northern reaches of New England will be rapidly racing towards peak next week. Unfortunately, weather pattern won’t continue to provide such ideal support,as a fairly stagnant boundary sets up. This will bring a bit of moisture, seasonably warm temperatures and a few scattered showers into the weekend, and the impact may be a slowing of the advancing colors.
The best color this weekend will be largely reserved for some of the higher elevations of the Northeast Kingdom, Dixville Notch, the Zealand Valley and Baxter State Park, which should all have at least moderate color by the weekend. Great drives this weekend might be Rt 5 and 5A around Lake Willoughby in Vermont, Rt. 26 through Dixville Notch in New Hampshire, and The Golden Road from Millinocket, Maine. I wouldn’t expect peak conditions, but color will be moderate with mixed greens and reds. It might actually be even nicer in these areas the following weekend, but you’ll also have far wider options to see color by then.
Overall, things are still shaping up very well for the season ahead. The maples look healthy, and are starting to show signs of strong reds. The color is a showing a bit late, but not far from the statistical norm. There are a few more unhealthy birches than in a typical season, but it’s more common to see the birch’s bark featured in photographs than their foliage, so I wouldn’t be worried. Road access through areas hit hard by Irene continue to improve with temporary and/or permanent fixes…so hopefully you find yourself on the road this weekend! And while you are on the go, enjoying this beautiful season, be sure to report back to us at Yankee Foliage with our foliage mobile app, or on our facebook page! Everyone is excited to see what you find!