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Luskin: Past Peak

I’m piqued that leaf peepers come peeking at peak foliage on the Green Mountain pinnacles as if nature were a spectator sport and autumn the champion season. I don’t question the splendor of the red and yellow maples setting the hills on fire, or the spectacle of the bright autumn sky.
But the current penchant to publicize the peak period of supreme perfection provokes my ire.

I’m annoyed by how this treatment of a natural turn of events turns this turn of season into a consumable – a landscape for tourists to devour, an excuse for a drive in the country and a night in an inn. The idea of peak foliage promotes a postcard-pretty picture of rural life, shortchanging the spectrum of seasonal shift.

The Foliage Report has become part of the weather forecast, that staple of modern life that's hoodwinked people into believing in the certainty of prediction. Visitors flock to Vermont in vehicles that clog the avenues through the views, where they expect to find perfection.

If locals in the service industry serving visitors from away say, “Oh, it will be even better tomorrow,” or “You should have been here yesterday,” they’re not just playing the taciturn rube, deliberately rubbing the city hick the wrong way. There’s truth in the rub: Each day has it’s own beauty.

There’s no question, there are about ten days when the leaves turn spectacular colors, the grand finale to a growing season before the leaves drop – like the curtain at the end of the play. Growth over. Photosynthesis finished for the season. But it’s never so clear-cut.

After the reds and yellows comes a period of gold followed by copper. The canopy thins, the woods become transparent, and sunlight spreads. Grass turns to gold.

There is a burnished beauty in this season too quiet for broadcast, but spectacular nonetheless. It’s the liminal time between growth and dormancy, between the spectacular splendor of summer ending and the silence of snow. It’s filled with the urgency of deer in rut and humans putting up wood.

This post peak moment is not so much an end as a beginning of gestation, hibernation, and the long rest before the brutality of birth and the cycle of growth starts all over again.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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