Apparently, this is a year for unusual natural occurrences. On Wednesday, August 24, we stood on the ground at Ocean Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Virginia, as a 5.9 scale earthquake shook the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, its epicenter a scant few miles away. This quake was felt as far West as Wisconsin (due to plate geology I don’t even pretend to understand)! Earthquakes are a common occurrence along the West Coast. On the East Coast? Not so much.
In inland states, we don’t plan on hurricanes and earthquakes!
Just days later, on Saturday, August 27, we sat in suburban Washington, D.C., bracing for what we thought was going to be the “lash” (albeit on the fringe edge, compared to North Carolina, NYC and New Jersey) of so-called, Hurricane Irene. “Hurricane Season” (anywhere from June to November on the Atlantic Seaboard), like all of Mother Nature, is unpredictable. What usually is predictable, though, is that once a hurricane makes landfall, it generally loses energy, often downgrading to a “tropical storm.” If you live along the Atlantic Ocean, you prepare for this annual, seasonal, phenomena.
But if you live inland? Having lived in Michigan and Vermont during much of my lifetime, hurricane preparation is not something that engenders significant concern. So who would have thought that perhaps the most devastating (and unexpected) impact of Irene was in the non-seacoast state of Vermont (it is noteworthy that the same impact was felt in the inland portions of New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire – each of which has Atlantic Seaboard real estate).
As the middle of September approaches, I always have a building excitement about the upcoming fall color season. Fall, it is not secret to those who know me, is my favorite time of the year. Cool, crisp weather, football, and fall color all reside in that season. The light becomes more conducive to good images, as the days get shorter. It has a bitter sweetness to it, as it is also a harbinger of the end; and of the season that is perhaps my least favorite.
I have a message from the state of Vermont: DO NOT LET IRENE KEEP YOU AWAY!
This year, my excitement is tempered with what is probably the worst natural disaster since 1927 for my favorite of all fall foliage locations, Vermont. Mountains, bucolic farms, traditional New England Villages, covered bridges, waterfalls, lakes and streams – Vermont has it all, with a background of deciduous hardwood mix that creates, arguably the most brilliant fall foliage found anywhere in the world. This year, the aftermath of Irene brought unprecedented rains to the state of Vermont, filling mountain streams and rivers many magnitudes more than their normal banks, creating flooding and moving water that destroyed many highways, several historic covered bridges, and in some cases homes and businesses. Some of Vermont’s towns, which were accessible only by bridges over one of its many rivers, were completely isolated for several days. CNN, FOX, and network newscasts painted a bleak picture on Monday. This was something that was not anticipated on a long-term basis and a severe blow to the state’s economy.
Well, I have a message from the state of Vermont: Do not let Irene keep you away! The vast majority of bridges and roads in Vermont remain intact. And those major roads which were impacted will be made passable, if not completely repaired for the upcoming foliage season. I check in daily at the Scenes of Vermont foliage forum, which gets very active from mid-August until the end of the season. I recommend signing up and making it a resource. Scenes of Vermont is an independent site, with no official connection to Vermont or any official Vermont tourism agency or site, and the forum participants generally give unvarnished, often real-time assessments of the conditions. While I am a moderator there, and of the Scenes of Vermont Photography Forum as well, this occurred only after I found this site and determined that it was the best, most accurate, independent resource for tracking foliage-based activity, as well as for obtaining useful information about the state.
One of the peculiarities of the Irene-related devastation, though, is that by the time its aftermath reached Vermont, there was relatively little wind (which is, of course, a hallmark of a hurricane), and so the foliage remains intact and healthy (except in those relatively small areas where actual flooding will damage the trees). Ironically, in several years past, late-season drought may have been the cause for muted color and early season leaf drop. It may be that (barring any new and unforeseen weather phenomena), the massive moisture brought by the rains will contribute to a more traditional, brilliant color show this year. That is certainly the hope of every serious foliage photographer (as well as leaf peepers).
Vermont wants and needs “business as usual”
A significant portion of Vermont’s economy today depends on tourism. Nearly a quarter of Vermont’s employment is from the tourism industry. The approximately month-long foliage season accounts for a huge portion of that tourism. This year, more than any recent year, Vermont needs that influx of economic activity, to help it rebuild.
I certainly do not mean to belittle the terrible tragedy which befell some towns and individuals. Loss of your home, business or major landmarks is certainly terrible thing and we all feel deeply for those losses (wherever in the U.S. they may have occurred). But the people of Vermont have a special spirit and resilience. If you watched network and cable news reporting, you had the opportunity to see that spirit firsthand. They will not ask for sympathy. They will pick themselves up and fix things. In the meantime, they want and need “business as usual” – this Fall more than ever.
The approximately month-long foliage season accounts for a huge portion of Vermont’s tourism economy
So, here is my personal, admittedly biased, call for those who have plans to visit Vermont and New England this year, please do not cancel plans. As noted, the vast majority of the state’s foliage-based locations and activities will go on as usual. For those that will not or cannot, there are many other activities which may require a minor change in plans, but certainly not cancellation.
Here are some resources to keep up to date: