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The Colors of Autumn

The Colors of Autumn

by Chris Petry

Depending on the survey, anywhere between 29 and 42% of Americans rank Fall as their favorite season. I know what you’re thinking; doesn’t this fly in the face of conventional wisdom that suggests most people are at their happiest half way through their third Mai Tai on a tropical beach in early July? I bet if you asked them by the time they finished that Mai Tai, they’d reply, “yes.” Still, when survey time comes, Fall wins out.
Why is the Fall Season so popular? The cooler evenings and mornings? The subtle sigh of relief when you put away the lawnmower, knowing the day is fast approaching when you won’t even have to think about it for 5 or 6 months? Or is it because the kids are back in school? I can hear you screaming the affirmative from here. Calm down, you’ll wake the neighbors.
Personally, I think Fall, or Autumn, has one huge advantage when it comes to imprinting itself in our hearts and minds: aesthetics. We all become aesthetes (an admirer of the visual elements of art and nature) when cinnamon and cloves appear in the potpourri jars. Fall is without doubt, the most photogenic of the four seasons and its most striking visual is the characteristic fiery tree line, possessing vivid shades of red, yellow, orange, and brown.
Fall foliage is the result of a natural process by which trees begin producing less chlorophyll as a result of shortened days. While days are long and trees are in full bloom, they produce and break down continual streams of chlorophyll which make them appear green. As nights grow longer, this cycle slows down and eventually ceases entirely. Carotenoids and Anthocyanins, or leaf sugars, become more visible and their natural pigments contribute to the leaves’ signature color palette.
If there’s one feature an aesthete prizes above all, it’s contrast. No season provides a greater contrast than Fall. In the summer time, foliage is best described as… well, green. In the winter, it’s greyed and cadaverous, what’s left of it anyway. If you’re like me you might find the gloom and decay irresistibly beautiful. Though I concede such a perspective is unlikely to attract much companionship!
So, when does it all go down? I mean, when does Fall come roaring at the door like a full-throated lion, delivering the final blow to the gazelle of summertime? Glad you asked. The Fall Equinox arrives, officially, on Saturday, September, 23rd. For peak Fall foliage, you’ll need to wait a couple more weeks. Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands (ranked #3 in the entire country by USA Today for scenic fall foliage) peaks in mid-October.
Leaves generally begin peaking in the northernmost corners of the US in mid-late September, the rest of the Northeast by midway through October, the Midwest by Halloween, the Southcentral US by mid-November, and finally, in the Sunshine State around Thanksgiving.

If summer is too dry or temperatures fail to dip on time come Spring, the natural process by which leaves change can be disrupted. This can push peak foliage dates out by a couple weeks. Which can seriously throw off the vibes in the pumpkin patch!