“If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you’ll never enjoy the sunshine.” – Morris West
And if you spend your whole fall waiting for perfect, glorious leaf color, you’ll never enjoy the other splendor this season has to offer.
We know what you’re thinking: Enough already, autumn. Bring on the show! There’s still (yes, still) a lot of green. But autumn will be what she will be, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. We might as well learn to love her on her own terms.
Here are the terms she’s offering this week in Shenandoah National Park.
Virginia creepers – you’ve got to love them. While most of the other fall color stars – like maples, sassafras, poison ivy, and hickories – are goofing off, not even pretending to change color yet, Virginia creepers are hard at work, doing their part – the overachievers of the Shenandoah forest. Between miles 38 and 40 this week Virginia creepers fairly tap dance for your viewing pleasure. They rush over stone walls and across natural stone banks, as if someone tipped over a half-full bottle of claret onto a flagstone patio. They bolt up trees so thickly that in some places you can’t even see bark. They aim to please, and they do so with such vermilion zeal, you almost feel like rolling down your car window and giving them a round of applause.
One lone maple across from Meadow Springs parking, near mile 34, stands tall like a Beefeater guarding the Park’s soon-to-be-jewel-toned trees and vines. Fickle ash trees flirt with you, as they continue to smolder here and there, some turning purple-bronze, some butternut gold, some apparently unable to decide what color they want to be. (Ash trees wear their hearts on their leaves.) Moosewoods – goose foot maples, striped maples, whatever you like to call them – are vividly two-toned now, lemon yellow and lime green. Big Meadows has gone straight from summer greens to earth tones – a ‘70s palette of mauve, tan, harvest gold, and sage. Hillsides are still blanketed in green, but are dotted now with scarlet, pumpkin, and saffron– a polka-dotted quilt autumn works at a little each day. The view from Hazel Mountain Overlook at mile 33 on Skyline Drive is evolving before our eyes, an embroidered piece on which dead hemlocks stand out like sporadic gray stitches. In the south district – below Swift Run Gap on route 33 – you’ll see some golds and yellows: hickories, mostly. The south district often pulls out all her stops later in the season, so keep your eye on her as the next couple of weeks progress.
Take heart: Shenandoah has had a few frosty nights this past week. Cool nights and warm days are what cue the trees, shrubs, and vines to don their colorful clothes. It’s art, yes – a little textile creativity, a little fashion design, a lot of oil and watercolor – but it’s also science. Educate yourself on how it works: http://www.sciencemadesimple.com/leaves.html
Check back next Friday, October 21, for the fall color update. And don’t forget to check the fall color webcam on our website: https://www.nps.gov/…/learn/photosmultimedia/view_webcam.htm Even better, come visit the real, live Shenandoah National Park and make up your mind to love autumn on her own terms. Whatever she offers, we promise it’ll be worth the drive.
NPS/Neal Lewis photo: Autumn does her thing at Hazel Mountain Overlook, mile 33 on Skyline Drive.
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Last Updated: 10/14/2016
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