Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fall Foliage Wrap-up

It’s been raining hard here for almost twenty-four hours, and many of the leaves that remained have been stripped from the trees. It’s also been bizarrely warm, creating a weird combination of shortening days and short-sleeved weather. It’s officially stick season. And that’s not a bad thing, because it gives us a chance to look back over the busy fall foliage tourist season and reckon a few things:

* Our guests were as diverse as ever. There was a strong Kansas City-Wisconsin theme this year. Our marketing dollars must be going far in the midwest, because we had more guests from those two places than anywhere else, except maybe New York or Connecticut, and they don’t count because they’re always up here. It’s also curious because next summer I’ll be traveling to Kansas City for the Advanced Placement English Language reading. I was briefed in detail by the Kansans about the best barbecue and jazz joints, so I feel like I’ll be prepared. And the Royals are headed to the world series, making the Kansas City theme even curiouser.

* The weather was warm and sunny. Wicked warm. And wicked sunny. As I write this, in mid-October, it’s over 70 outside. But the whole autumn was balmy. We had one hard freeze near the end of September that propelled the leaves into...well, read the next paragraph.

* The foliage was spectacular. Really spectacular. Maybe it arrived a little early, because I heard some folks wonder aloud where all the color was in early October. The early yellows of the birches and poplars was a little slow to get going, but they filled in nicely at the tail end. Oh, and the color was everywhere.

* My Aunt Marylou died. I won’t say she passed away, because that’s one of those euphemisms that drives me--and my pal George Carlin--crazy. She didn’t pass anything, especially not at the end of her life. She died. And I loved her, even though I hadn’t really had much contact with her. She was kind and sweet to me when I was little, and I’ll never forget that, or the way she called all us cousins “honey,” or her laugh, bulbous and sincere, like her.

* I got a tractor. It’s just a little Kubota, but it should help with the snow removal around here in the winter, as well as mowing in the summer, and general property maintenance up at our spread in Montgomery Center. It’s taking me a while to figure out all the levers and buttons on it, but I’ll get there. Look for me this winter, wearing my old FedEx winter ramp gear, as I putter around the Auberge picking up snow and dumping it with my front loader. (Insert Lowland Silverback Gorilla sounds here.)

* I turned fifty. It’s a hell of thing, a man turning fifty. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have...oops, sorry about that. I was channeling Clint Eastwood there for a moment. And why not? He’s done fairly well after turning fifty. It’s not a bad thing to aim for. Chantal put on this big party for me, which was over the top, but I loved it. I got a knife from my brother, which is about the coolest thing you can get from your brother. And I got several bottles of whisk(e)y, whose cumulative age is well over 500.

So now it’s stick season. Time to think about heading into the woods for some partridge hunting, putting the snow tires on the car, and if it ever cools down, wearing sweaters. Did someone say snow?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy 50th, 1964...Update

Author's note: This post originally appeared in January, when most of you were hibernating. Since today is my birthday (I repeat: today is my birthday), I'm posting it again, but with a special foreword.

Of all the cool stuff that happened in 1964, there was one I forgot to include in this list. My savvy brother, Michael, reminded me of this when he presented me with a 50th anniversary Buck Model 110 Folding Hunter 50th Anniversary Edition knife. This is the classic Buck knife of my childhood. My father gave me one of these, but somewhere over the years, it disappeared. I used that knife for everything from skinning squirrels to writing research papers in college. And now, thanks to Michael, I have its replacement, which I plan to keep for at least 50 more years. Then I'll trade it in for adult diapers. Happy Birthday, Buck 110.

It’s finally here--the celebration we’ve all been waiting for: the 50th anniversary of 1964, perhaps the most important year in the 20th century. Any retrospective of a great year will require the omission of many events that may, to some, warrant mention, so while we’re getting ready to review the good stuff, let’s not forget some of the lower-order news items that happened during the first true year of Generation X--things like Barry Goldwater’s run at LBJ, Cassius Clay’s pummeling of Sonny Liston, the opening of Shea Stadium, the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the Constitution (which seems to be under assault in warm-weather milieus), The New York World’s Fair, Pete Townshend destroying his first guitar on stage, My Fair Lady, and the first BASIC program written for computers.

Those events alone would constitute a momentous year, but they’re just the appetizer to an extraordinary turn of the calendar. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a pastiche of events that shaped and influenced my development long after we trudged through the rest of the 60s and on into the loathsome 70s. Here then, in no particular order, are the highlights of 1964--or, as we call it down at Pro Bono Publico, my favorite Latin watering hole, “MCMLXIV.”

The Beatles. Any discussion of 1964 must begin and end with the Fab Four. Mop Top mavens know that by the time John, Paul, George, and Ringo debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show they’d already conquered the east side of the Atlantic, but we all know how important the American market is to rock’n’roll music--we invented it. And I’m not going to drivel on about how The Beatles rescued us from our lugubrious post-Kennedy mourning. But because music is so important to Americans, and because The Beatles reinvented rock’n’roll while simultaneously creating pop music, their impact on 1964 can’t be overstated. Think of it this way: at the beginning of 1964, the number one record in American (according to Cash Box magazine) was Bobby Vinton’s “There! I’ve Said It Again.” Let that detonate in your head for a moment, and try not be perplexed by the need for an exclamation mark after “there” but not after “again.” By the end of 1964, The Beatles had held the top spot for 22 weeks--almost half the year. Not only that, but they had the ninth highest grossing film that year, with the release of A Hard Day’s Night. It’s not an overstatement to say that The Beatles were an atomic bomb in American culture, shaping us still to this day.

The Ford Mustang. There is nothing that characterizes Americans better than their love of the automobile, and there is no more iconic or important automobile than the Ford Mustang. Not only is the Mustang the most recognizable car to sprout from Dearborn, it’s also the first pony car, a new class of automobile that would go on to influence car design up to today. Like The Beatles, the Ford Mustang influenced and shaped the language of our culture.

Smoking and Health. You probably know this report by it’s common name, The Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking. This was the report that codified what smart people knew all along: smoking like a chimney was deadly. To a lesser extent, it cut the legs out from the notion that NOT smoking was somehow unpatriotic. Cigarettes (as mass-produced by tobacco companies) became locked with the image of our boys winning World War Two, so Americans felt it was their duty to smoke their brains out. This report revealed the real effects of smoking, and more importantly, it laid the groundwork for the acceptance of scientific study as a legitimate process for change. Almost half the U.S. population smoked in 1964 (the other half were children); that’s down to 18% today, which begs the question: Why?

Bourbon. Like the Ford Mustang, bourbon is an icon of our culture. This is the true American whiskey, spelled with an “e.” Nothing defines America like corn, and the only thing corn is good for (besides corn bread, corn flakes, and corn on the cobb slathered with butter) is making whiskey. It’s the ultimate expression of distilled spirits, full of character, produced by Kentuckians living in dry counties using charred American oak barrels, which are then sold to the French to make their wine taste better. Sweet justice.

Goldfinger. This is the best of the Sean Connery Bond films. Based on the Ian Fleming novel of the same name, the film straddles the dark nature of the first two Bond films and the goofiness of later incarnations, especially Roger Moore’s interpretation of James Bond. Here in Goldfinger is an outlandish plot (Auric Goldfinger plots to steal the gold from Ft. Knox, and where the U.S. Army fails, an Englishman saves the day--puh-lease!), strong women with misogynistic names (Pussy Galore actually works at Goldfinger’s stud farm--get it?), gadgets from Q (the Aston Martin DB-5 with an ejector seat and revolving license plates), ridiculous evil sidekicks (Oddjob as the deadly Korean with the boomerang killing hat), and Sean Connery’s hairy chest. The movie contains what I believe it the best scene in all of Bondom: 007 is strapped to a table in Goldfinger’s lair while a laser cuts a path to his double-oh meat and two veg. Bond, clearly concerned, says, “Do you expect me to talk?” To which Goldfinger says, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” Pure genius.

Finally, on September 23, Bruce Springsteen celebrated his 15th birthday. The Boss was having a tough time at home. Having seen The Beatles, he saw his future, and his future was rock’n’roll. We don’t know how Bruce celebrated his big day, but he probably paused for a moment when he felt another important event happen: my birth.

Happy 50th, 1964, and Happy 50th to all the cool kids born that year.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fall Foliage Guide 2014

Author's Note: This blog post originally appeared in September, 2012, but it contains a lot of useful information for leaf-peepers. Enjoy!


For folks planning on heading north for some fine fall foliage viewing, the question is always about timing. While divining the moment of the brightest, most astonishing colors is impossible, there are some things to keep in mind when planning your trip, and some resources to help you adjust your expectations.

Yankee Magazine has a neat tool called the Fall Foliage Predictor. It’s a motion colored map that allows you to scroll over a calendar and see exactly when the peak colors will be in certain areas this fall. I don’t know what the mechanisms behind this map are, but given my experience in the north country, it seems about right. The accuracy of the map, in other words, may be less attributable to programmers and algorithms than people with experience, and Yankee has been around long enough to know when certain areas will experience their peak foliage colors.

According to Yankee, the peak colors for northern Vermont will be from about September 23 (my birthday, in case you have a gifting urge to fulfill) to about October 5, with the highest intensity occurring about the weekend of September 29-30. This seems a bit early to me. In the past, we’ve experienced the peak of foliage closer to October 4-5. But perhaps the folks at Yankee know something I don’t know. Perhaps they’ve calculated that long, warm, sunny, dry summer will advance the season a bit. Perhaps it doesn’t even matter.

More hard data can be found in Autumn 2012 edition of Northern Woodlands magazine. In an article called “Where’s the Peak?”, John Burk recaps the dull foliage season we experienced in 2011, and the reasons behind it: a long, cold, wet spring; an attack on sugar maples by anthracnose, a fungal disease; a high seed year, which stressed many maples by diverting energy toward seed development; something called septoria leafspot, which sounds ghastly, and which caused tens of thousands of acres of birch trees to defoliate; and the remnants of Hurricane Irene, which brought torrential rains and flooding to Vermont. Also affecting the season last year were some long term trends, such as warmer autumns and later first-frost dates. For the past half century, the first frost has occurred later and later, especially in the last 20 years. I wonder what could cause that?

Burk observes, however, that this year has been different. The long, warm summer should preclude a repeat performance of fungal diseases. Then again, warmer weather can cause earlier leaf drops. And the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is calling for above-average temps for the remainder of this autumn.

So what does that mean for you, the traveler coming to Stowe in search of legendary color? Local knowledge is king. I’ll be out daily checking the area for the best colors, but as for timing and planning, I can tell you that at any time between the last weekend in September and the first weekend in October, there will ridges and valleys ablaze with astonishing fall foliage. All you need to do is show up.