Ask me a question and offer me twelve choices for the answer, and I’d probably have to ponder each one in depth. But ask me what my favorite month is, and eleven of the twelve choices would hardly cross my mind—all because of October.
The mention of October stirs up images aplenty: frost on the pumpkins, the lighting of wood burners, nut gathering, apple picking and cider, corn harvest, fall festivals, the hunter’s moon, Halloween—the list goes on. While all these images illuminate October as a special time of year, the clincher for making it my favorite is the arrival of autumn leaves.
According to me, no other time of year in the outdoors gets the oohs and aahs that October gets. No other time of year can compete with the leading up to, the peaking, and the falling of autumn leaves. Not the budding and blossoming of spring, not the flowering and lushness of summer, nor the snow and ice of winter. October presents nature as a spectacle of extravagant beauty.
When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Wilcox, gave our class an assignment: we had to put together a scrapbook of leaves. I think I still have mine tucked away somewhere in a closet. With my mother’s help, the scrapbook was bound together with construction paper and yarn, and a picture of a gorgeous landscape of autumn foliage was clipped out of a
magazine and glued to the cover. Collecting and identifying the leaves for that outdoor assignment surely set the stage for a better appreciation of trees.
I remember the fun we had as kids during the month of October raking up the fallen maple leaves in our yard and jumping into the fluffy, fragrant piles. I remember the pails of hickory nuts my brothers and I gathered underneath the solitary shagbark trees scattered around our farm, and I remember cracking them open on our flagstone steps and eating the delicious meats. The bond that I now have with the beauty of the October woods began many years ago when my Dad took us boys on our first small game hunt.
Carving faces in ripe pumpkins and celebrating the traditions of Halloween as a youth were fondly relived through the growing stages of our own kids. A flip of the calendar to October always fuels a reminiscence of such embedded memories.
I’ve been an avid photographer for many years, and the one subject that I never tire of is autumn foliage. One of my favorite spots to photograph is the shoreline of our pond, where a mixture of hardwood species puts on a blazing show. The mirror image reflected in the motionless water shortly after sunup provides a double dose of brilliance. Peak colors on our farm takes place a few days either side of October eighth, but some of my best photographs of the pond have been taken as late as the twenty-fourth.
On Christmas day in 1993, my youngest daughter Julie gave me a soft-cover book titled Autumn Leaves. Written by a forestry technician named Ronald Lanner, the book is an excellent guide to the varied species of trees that contribute such brilliance to the autumn woods. In the chapter “Cool Fires of Autumn” Lanner not only explains the scientific phenomenon behind the coloration of leaves, but he also lists the contact information for twenty-five states and provinces that have hotlines available for “leaf peepers” inquiring about the progress of their autumn leaves.
Evergreens—just as the name implies—add character to the autumn woods as a break in what might otherwise become a scene of repetition. A typical woodlot across our region will often feature a scattering—or sometimes a pure stand—of these cone-bearing trees, and Lanner brings their association with fall colors to our attention in his chapter “Somber Evergreens.”
Lanner’s remarkable knowledge of trees enlightens the readers of his book with little-known facts about the major trees of autumn and their relationship to our culture, while Robert Baldwin’s photography offers stunning identification. Admirers of the fall colors—like me—will surely treasure this book.
Ask someone what their favorite month is, and I’d be willing to bet that memories, favorite seasons, or a birth month would greatly influence their answer. While November was the month when I took my very first breath, it’s those brilliant October leaves that never fail to take my breath away.