EDITORIALS

This Autumn’s Leaves

Posted Oct. 28, 2011, at 4:13 p.m.

They seem more subdued than usual, but the leaves are still beautiful, and now is the time to admire them, especially with the forecast calling for heavy, wet snow Saturday night.

Drive almost anywhere or hike someplace like Baxter State Park or Acadia National Park, and you will see plenty of yellow and orange, if not as much brilliant scarlet as in some years.

The maples, which usually supply the red coloring, have suffered this year from two diseases, anthracnose and tar leaf spot, which can cause the leaves to fall prematurely, according to the Maine state forest pathologist, Bill Ostrofsky. Still the bright red of the sumac bushes are as striking as ever. Mr. Ostrofsky says the unusually warm early fall delayed the emergence of the fall colors this year and has led to a fairly extended season.

Yet to come is the turning of the oak leaves from the dark green of summer to various shades of shiny bronze, which can last for weeks. And even further along, the green-needled hackmatacks, elsewhere known as larch or tamarack, will do their autumn magic. They are the only coniferous trees that are not evergreens. Their needles soon will turn golden, standing out among the pines and spruce and bare branches of other trees, before dropping to the ground for the winter.

A further word about the hackmatacks: They have a lot going for them besides their beauty. Native Americans have long used their roots for binding snowshoes and the edges of canoes, their inner bark to make tea, their outer bark as a laxative or diuretic and their sap as a chewy candy. Maine shipbuilders still use their curved roots to cut the curved “knees” for supports and corner fittings.

If you visit Acadia, you will find newly repaired trails with rope barriers to keep people from trampling the growth, but also new log stairways from the ocean drive trail down toward the shore. This follows the park’s practice of opening trails where hikers have been taking logical shortcuts.

There’s a lot to see and learn in the autumn outdoors, and many people think it is the best season of all. Enjoy it while it’s here.

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