"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Fall foliage in Upstate NY: A sudden and unexpected explosion of color, two weeks late

by Jim Bessey editor

Here in the Northeast the big fall leaf-peeping season typically peaks right around the Columbus Day Weekend. Not this year. In fact, we had barely reached 50% of peak by that time. Now, two weeks later...

While we were sleeping, and while the drizzly gray days had us yearning for Nap Time, the trees in the Finger Lakes Region quietly dressed themselves in spectacular colors -- finally. Some of our hardier trees still cling to green, and many others are already almost bare; but now the rest have decided to perform in brilliant fashion.

The breathtaking palate of colors is enough to distract a driver right into the guardrail. Even the willows have decided to join the party, though they tend to pause half-changed in shades of yellow and pale green like streamers of succotash. It's the oaks, maples and underrated sassafras that own the show, presenting a dazzling array of muted yellows, fiery oranges, and sizzling scarlet. The purple beeches and Japanese maples have the key cameos in shades of burgundy and port wine.

Our valleys are filled with mixed stands of birch, poplar, locust, aspen and ash. These prefer pale yellows and deerskin tan, with an occasional blaze of rusty orange mixed in. On the hillsides, however, the big trees dabble in burnt sienna, copper, and old-schoolhouse red. We have fat walnuts, massive maples, shaggy hickories, awesome oaks, more maples, stately sycamores, some big-leafed chestnuts, a spattering of elms that survived Dutch Elm disease, and a whole lot more maples. These old-forest trees have colored our wooded hills like a bomb in a paint store.

In town the smaller flowering trees like Dogwood and Crab (and a slew of others whose names I don't know) steal the show. They're dressed in soft tints of red like Cortland apples, leaves perfectly uniform in color. On every corner, by every driveway, burning bush shrubs (Euonymus alata) provide bursts of alarming cheap-lipstick red that looks nothing like fire to me. Boldest of all are the barberry bushes so dark they look like dried blood. The Reds are everywhere!

This incredible art exhibit won't last, of course. The brightest colors might not make it to the weekend. Already the fallen leaves decorate our still-green lawns like cinnamon sugar on toast. They flutter to the ground like slow-motion snowflakes -- one here, a dozen there, a flurry of a hundred with every gust of wind. There's a front coming through tonight, bringing pounding rains and threats of dangerous wind gusts. Maybe the show will be over by morning. Somehow I doubt that. Our trees have waited long past their standard deadline. I doubt they'll bare their branches to winter without a battle.

All photos copyright 2010 Jim Bessey. Reprints with attribution


  1. Lovely commentary, Jim. You could've been describing the mountains around me.

  2. And you would have been able to tell me for sure which trees were which! :-)