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    September 2011
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Vermont Foliage Season; A Special Year

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont

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.

Cool early morning temperatures following a heavy rainfall created magical atmospheric conditions for this image

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.

Dummerston Covered Bridge

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).

Newfane Common, Newfane, Vermont

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:

Vermont DOT

Face Book VisitVT Page



9 Responses

  1. Oh, I’ll be there. My prayer is that Hurricane Katia curves NE before hitting the coast and pulling an Irene on us.

  2. Amen Amen Amen to everything you so eloquently wrote Andy. This is the first year that I have planned to visit Southwest Vermont, one of the hardest hit places. I WILL NOT change my plans, and will somehow make my way up to Barton…..going from the extreme SW corner, to the extreme NE corner of the state. Don’t know how we will do it yet……but we will do it “come hell or high water” (pun inteneded)
    Vt is not out of the woods….more flash flooding could occur tomorrow into Tuesday…believe it or not….has me very worried at the moment to be honest with you….and then as Tim Perkins just wrote before me….we have Katia to keep an eye on. Prayers being sent!!!!!

  3. I would be remiss if I didn’t add a little to this Blog. 2 years back, I joined MPEG http://www.thempegforums.com (Midwest Photographers Enthusiast Group), hosted by Mark Perry http://www.galloimagesonline.com. For a very modest cost, this is probably the best pure photographers’ forum I have ever been a member of. I have met a number of top-drawer photographers, including Mark and James Moore http://www.transient-light.com, who has become (whether he likes it or not 🙂 ) a mentor, and more importantly, a friend.

    Last year, Mark and his wife traveled to Vermont for the first time. Were were there during the same week and were in daily telephone contact about what we were finding around the state. I think Mark must have felt that the trip was a success, because he scheduled one of his famous “Groupshoots,” this October, designating it the “National Treasure Groupshoot.” Mark just told me that the shoot is a go, inspite of Irene or anything that follows.

    MPEG http://www.thempegforums.com is a great site. Hope you will check it out and consider joining.

  4. Hurricane Season is 1 June to 1 November in the US.

  5. As much as I’d like to respond in the affirmative and lend my support to the local economies of VT, I’m once again headed off to my favorite autumn venue–the “Highlands” of West Virginia. I’ve photographed both areas. It arguably rivals your favorite for color, but it ain’t got no pristine, quaint villages 😉

    As you well know, Andy, I’m taking a bunch of eager photographers along with me too. Their support of the depressed local economy in that particular section of rural Appalachia is sorely needed. Never good even in the best of times, they have really felt the brunt of the current state of economic affairs with even more small businesses shuttering their doors during the past year.

    I’ll be with you in spirit though, my friend (and mentee}. Natural disasters are tough and heartbreaking all the way around. But, just about the only thing I can think of in which the rural folk of VT and those of WV have in common is a can-do, get-out-of-my-way, pick-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps attitude.

    • Jim: Unfortunately, I will not be able to contribute to Vermont’s economy directly this year. Have long term plans to be in California during the first part of October. I will, however, be able to put a few direct $ into the West Virginia economy this year and look forward to meeting you while there!

  6. Your pictures are awesome!

  7. Lovely photographs, crisp and brilliant colors. We plan on visiting Craftsbury to see where the Alfred Hitchcock’s film was made.

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