New England Foliage in the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene
Every fall in New England, we celebrate the best in beauty that Mother Nature can bring. While spending time preparing for the hard season ahead, we revel in the sublime tranquility of autumn as the landscape explodes into color. But Mother Nature does have another side to her, and this past weekend, we were reminded how quickly she can bring unimaginable destruction to a place that otherwise seems stable, serene and idyllic.
Before the storm late last week, I spent some time researching how tropical systems in New England have had an effect on autumn colors in past years. Heavy rainfall this time of year doesn’t do the colors any favors, but it wouldn’t be a season killer. Winds would remove some leaves and branches, but this early in the season, most would hold strong. The setup to this year’s foliage season was otherwise quite ideal, and overall, it seemed that in spite of the imposing storm, the season was to be saved. And then the rains began.
By now you no doubt know that historic rainfall fell in an arc from the western mountains of Maine, through the heart of the White Mountains, into Central and Southern Vermont, and down to the Berkshires. Pulled by gravity, small streams turned into torrents of water which overflowed their banks and rearranged everything once along them. The sound was unimaginable, resonant and full. Boulders rearranging themselves on the river-bottom provided bass, the current the mid-tones, and percussive sounds interjected as trees snapped and debris crashed. The power of the water was was indescribable. Rivers rerouted through roads, topping then toppling bridges, and carrying away houses. And now the aftermath is unbelievable.
The landscape of New England, even the land itself is now changed, and we are reminded of our vulnerability. Towns are isolated, roads and bridges are gone. The crops whose harvest we celebrate, the livelihood of the farmers, have been destroyed. New England has lost a yet uncounted number of covered bridges, which have stood for decades and centuries against countless floods and ice flows. History has been erased in an instant, washed away by raging waters, and honestly, raging doesn’t even seem characterize the conditions near every waterway this past weekend.
I believe these videos demonstrate what I’m trying to characterize and describe above. A quick search on Youtube or Twitter would most certainly allow you to check in on your favorite foliage spot:
At this point, it’s hard to say how long the recovery will take. Major roads like the Kancamagus Highway, Routes 302 and 16 in New Hampshire, Rt. 27 in Maine and portions of Rt. 100 in Vermont remained closed due to large washouts, and may be closed for some time. Every road through a notch in Maine and New Hampshire has seen damage. There is no way in or out of Waterville Valley in New Hampshire or Pittsfield in Vermont, and the same can be true of countless neighborhoods and villages.
And so, the changing seasons and colorful leaves matter little in the famed foliage areas of Northern New England today. I’ve connected with friends and family, who have shared their stories and, regardless of how little or how much they’ve lost, they all believe it could have been worse. I know I was very lucky; my cleanup was limited to sweeping my deck, but I am left with an empty feeling stemming from empathy and perhaps from lack of shared burden.
In a few more days, we’ll all have a better idea of a time-line for a return to new-normal. We know that there is a significant buffer of time before the start of the New England foliage season, and the weather this week couldn’t be better for drying out and beginning the recovery from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. The leaf canopy really didn’t fare to badly in the storm, and it should still shape up to be a good season. And New England needs the season to be strong; the economy needs it, and the human spirit needs it. Hang in there…
Check back each week for more 2011 foliage forecasts.