The Beauty That Follows “Peak Foliage”
During the forty years I’ve been living in Vermont, I’ve developed an increasing dislike of Peak Foliage, when forecasters announce where and when the reds and yellows will be most spectacular. My problem is that Peak Foliage disregards the beauty that follows foliage season: the golden beech and burnished oak turning the hillsides bronze.
The curtain of foliage turns gauzy as worn cloth. Silver tree trunks become as visible as the silver threads in my hair. I wade into the forest through ankle-deep leaves, find a seat, preferably in the sun and ideally against a tree—not just for comfort, but also to hide my silhouette as I wait for a deer. If I weren’t hunting, I wouldn’t be outdoors.
Scarcity Makes Daylight Precious
Before I started to hunt at sixty, I, too, complained about November’s stingy light. But I like to rise before dawn and enter the woods in the dark. Scarcity makes daylight precious. When it fades at dusk, the backlit hills turn black against a pastel sky, a contrast as poignant as an infant hand latching onto an elder’s finger.
Hunting is mostly sitting outside with the wind in my face. Sometimes I’m bored, but boredom doesn’t last. I read the trees: hemlock meets oak, slender maples surround a bog, dead trees provide cover. Water running downhill points my way out. Time passes. By mid-November, all foliage is past. This is what it’s like to be a woman aging: transparent, invisible, gorgeous, stately, and spare, like the hardwoods.
We make such a fuss about the limp leaves of springtime, regret the chartreuse veil of leaves that follows, obscuring the trees the way bangs fall over adolescent eyes. The forest canopy blooms; clouds of pollen billow. Growth, growth. Leaves darken. By August, the green slides toward blue. Leaves tire and thicken like middle age waistlines. And then peak foliage.
The Sixties Are Spectacular
“The sixties are spectacular,” my optometrist says. Even as my eyesight fades, I see what’s coming: The quiet of shortened days: distillate, pure. The end is closer than the beginning. I find clarity in the woods after peak foliage, where wisdom accrues with decay.