Well, here we are…..the end of another season, and the beginning of the next.
I usually find that, right around now, I begin to think of the things I didn’t do/didn’t get to do over the summer:
- I didn’t lose weight; in fact; I gained;
- That means I didn’t get into the handful of “goal” outfits I brought out as incentives. Now they’ll get shoved back into the back of the summer closet. Again;
- I didn’t stick my toes in the sand. Not once, and I was near the beach too.
- I didn’t get all the photos scanned from my photo albums (I had planned for a
“Grand Scan” to be completed by now—I’d say I’m about 25% there…but I will also say it’s been a lot of fun to look at all the photos);
- I didn’t manage to avoid the forest fire smoke from British Columbia (but can only imagine how bad it is/was there when it was at the top of the scale here).
What did I get done?
- I got to Newfoundland in June—saw an iceberg, a bunch of puffins, kissed a cod, ate moose and toutons and made a pilgrimage to Gander (more on that next week);
- I got to New York to see some friends for a 60th birthday celebration; I also saw my mom and hung out longer than I had planned, which was nice;
- I made plans with a NY friend who’s coming to visit later this month;
- I had countless coffees, brunches, dinners out with friends (but missed catching up with quite a few);
- I stayed out late, got rest, caught fireflies and Joe Jackson.
And now, it’s just about to become fall, which I think is my favourite time of year—that is, until it gets too cold, too dark, and too snowy.
I’m not planning a fall trip this year, because I have a big trip planned for winter (more on that later), but it’s not too late to make some reservations to get out there and see some great stuff.
The thing I miss the most, living where I do, is the subtle shift in seasons. I remember the summer I moved to Calgary, it was brutally hot and dry through the month of August, and then, on September 6, it snowed.
I’m not talking light flurries; the ground was white. At least for a few hours. By afternoon it had all melted—but just imagine those few hours, where I wondered if I had made the biggest mistake of my life. (good news, I didn’t)
One of the first things I learned about living in Calgary is that the saying is true: “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes”. Another thing I learned pretty quickly was that chinooks are a good thing—for the most part (more on them another time).
But the main thing is that the seasonal changes here seem more abrupt; for example, it’s tough to tell when to take advantage of the nice fall weather. As I say, it can snow at any time now, but September is also one of the nicest months in Alberta, in my opinion. The skies are bright blue, the mountain lakes haven’t frozen yet, and while we don’t have the dramatic fall colours of the east coast, we do have some pretty interesting things to see and do before the winds shift.
Here’s a big one: did you know that there is a species of conifer that is also deciduous—they lose their needles, just like trees lose their leaves? There are actually quite a few species, but the ones in Alberta are called larch trees and they grow high up in the mountains.
Once a couple of years ago now, we got up before the sun and drove to Lake Louise in Banff National Park so that we could see the larches. There’s essentially one weekend where the needles are yellow but still on the trees, and thousands of people head out to see them (the reason for getting up so early). Now you don’t have to do what we did, but we took a four kilometer hike straight up a mountain to an alpine lake see them. It was tough going, but worth it in the end—just beautiful.
It is beautiful, but it doesn’t take the place of the memories of growing up in the northeast, where autumn falls rather dramatically sometime after Columbus Day.
I remember the aroma of dead and dying leaves, dumped into barrels or raked to the street and set on fire, and then the sweet smell of them burning. Sometimes they flared up and crackled and burned very quickly, the embers popping from the piles; other times they smoldered for hours and the only way you could tell they were still afire was the thin wisps of white smoke trailing up from the brown bunches.
I remember wearing long pants or overalls, heavy sweaters, sneakers and sometimes CPO jackets (they were like woolen overshirts; I just looked them up—they’re “chief petty officer” coats, and you can apparently still get them), and racing our bikes to the nature trail to play. Jack—the boy every girl had a crush on—rode his Stingray bike with the banana seat and chopper handlebars right though a smoldering pile of leaves, dragging his feet…and melted his sneakers. Almost killed his bike tires too.
I miss seeing the oaks and maples turn colour, so in the past few years, I’ve managed to get up to New England twice to catch nature’s fall art show. Both times I was on the cusp of the change—there’s a map you can follow, but just as I learned with the icebergs in Newfoundland this year, they’ll come when they come. In any case, there’s always something beautiful to see or do—whether it’s strolling through a small town or a walking across a river in a covered bridge, grabbing a regional specialty at a talked-about restaurant, or walking deep into the woods for the day with a map and a backpack, you won’t be bored.
And the leaves will change when they will. The only sure way to see the full cycle is to spend a month or six weeks, in a tiny house in the woods, on the edge of a pond, a small village nearby to ensure you have the necessities…some firewood, a crock pot, a blanket or two and some books.
But I digress.
How to make the most of the set time you have to see the fall colours in the northeast?
- Keep an eye on the charts for the US and Canada(see below); they’ll tell you when the leaves are changing, supply you with easy drive routes, and even give you tips and tricks to make the most of your trip;
- This would be a difficult trip without a car, but there are many organized bus tours you can take, which allow you sit back and not worry about where to park or traffic;.
- If you are on your own, try to choose a central location or two in the region you’re exploring as bases. You’ll need to make hotel reservations now, so get booking!
- Again, on your own—don’t be afraid to try a side road. Taking the paths less traveled will give you some photo ops no one else has;
- It kind of goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: if you can plan your trip to avoid the weekends, you will be much happier. Less people, less traffic, more private and personal.
Useful sites for planning: