Monday, October 17, 2005

The Glories of October

Is there a better month than October? The weather is great, the sports world is at its height, the trees are beautiful, classes are session, the world is right. Just walking outside brings a fresh feeling to my lungs and my body. A lot of people would say that they feel this way in the spring. And I do to, to an extent. But spring reminds me that the heat of summer is coming and I'm not a real heat guy. I do like cold though and October brings the end of heat and the beginning of cozy season.

Here in New Mexico we get a double shot of fall. This is especially true in Santa Fe. The worst weather in New Mexico is from the end of May to the middle of July. Once it starts raining our weather turns much better than most of America. So it's not like the height of summer is all that bad, even if late spring sucks big time. By the middle of September you start seeing the aspens turn on the mountains. About 100 years ago, on the west face of the Sangre de Cristos just outside of Santa Fe was a major forest fire. Aspens are the first tree to come back after a fire in the Rockies. About 100 years later, the firs and other coniferous species eventually push out the aspens, a process that is just beginning now. Anyway, looking up from Santa Fe to the mountain you get a first shot of fall as half the mountains are brilliant gold. Amazingly lovely. Then, about now the cottonwoods start turning. In New Mexico, we don't have a lot of deciduous trees. The aspens in the mountains and the cottonwoods on the waterways are about it. Right now, the cottonwoods are turning their own delicious shade of yellow. For me, I get even a little extra fall than the average person because I go to Albuquerque twice a week which is 2000 feet lower than Santa Fe. So while the cottonwoods are in full force in Santa Fe, they are just starting to change along the middle Rio Grande. So I'll get color all the way until early November, a very happy thing.

The changing of the trees holds a magical power over me and many others. I don't think I can say why. Maybe it has something to do with the sudden color shifts or maybe it is the differences in colors between and even within trees. My all time favorite color changing moment came on a trip to Cumberland Gap, where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all meet. This was the year before I moved to New Mexico and I knew that it might be awhile before I had the chance to see something like this again, which has in fact been true. I drove up a road at Cumberland Gap to a trail that looked out upon the surrounding countryside. On the trail, it was past peak. The ground was covered in leaves of all possible shades. I didn't walk very far--I often don't see the point of long hikes--and I soon just sat down and relaxed. I observed the insects and plants around me and just thought about who knows what. After awhile I got up and walked a little farther until I came to a overlook. Looking down you could see the trees in the valleys below at their peak change. What was interesting about this was not only that there was such a difference in 1000 feet or so but also that you could look down on trees from on high and see the changes within the trees themselves. The tops of some of the trees were just beginning to change and had become a kind of weird light green that I don't think I had ever noticed before. On other trees you could see how the leaves fell off the top first and were hanging on to the sides for just a little longer before all came off. It was a truly marvelous experience and one that I will never forget. It was all the more marvelous after growing up in Oregon which really doesn't change that much between summer and winter since most of the trees are Douglas fir.

UPDATE--Maggie points out in comments one key component of fall in New Mexico--the smell of roasting chiles. I can't describe this in words. I will say that once you smell, it you will never forget it and it will always remind you of fall. It might be the best smell in the world.