Some perspective on prime foliage

Even though I grew up in a northern environment and its deciduous trees, autumn color was pretty much peripheral. We lived in town, after all, and I was essentially indoors at school or the like. Besides, much of the rural landscape around us was open farmland, with here and there a woodlot or riverbank.

My foliage awareness really took off a few months after graduating from college, when I lived in a small city surrounded by forested Appalachian foothills that turned ablaze at the end of September. Like Kenzie in my novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, I was working a job that allowed me to get out of the office at mid-afternoon, when my free daylight hours were soon devoted to exploring the visions along backroads in what became a daily epiphany.

From town, it appeared the hills caught fire at their summits and the flaming color then ate its way downslope. And, as I heard, the forests themselves were a blending of New England varieties and those of the South, so we had the best of both worlds for foliage.

In the years and wanderings since, that’s been my standard, though I should question if it was really quite as vivid as my memory would boast. Having lived in northern New England now for 33 years, I’ve often thought our fall foliage was more subdued than its legend, perhaps apart from some spectacular locales like Sugar Hill here in New Hampshire.

This past week, though, has changed my opinion. In driving about, I’ve come across large swaths in full color – not the usual mixed green and bare mixed in – and properly illuminated, even in an early morning mist and fog, not that my camera would capture that. It soon becomes almost too much, too rich, for one’s eyes to handle.


That first autumn Upstate, I didn’t have a camera, alas. Later, living in an orchard, I was disappointed that the apple, peach, and pear trees turned mostly dun. Finally, what I attempted, with film, my first years in New Hampshire came out so-so, partly a failing on my not knowing quite where to go, when. Only when I took up digital photography, about the time I launched this blog, did I start shooting earnestly, especially my first autumn after taking the buyout at the office and heading into the hills a little north of us.

As I’ve revisited those shots, I’m struck by how often utility lines mar the image – that, and other things our eyes overlook, though the camera is far less forgiving. Those lines stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. Thus, in the past month, as I’ve been shooting, there have been many fine examples of color I’ve out-and-out passed by for that reason.

Another difference this time is that I’m using my second camera, which has a “magic” auto-setting that intensifies the color. In alternating my shots with that and a more subdued tonality, I’m finding that the “hotter” one grabs more of what I’m feeling as I look, while the “cooler” option is closer to the reality … until the sun turns just the right way, which is what’s been happening the past week.

I am surprised our hundred-year drought hasn’t deeply limited the foliage. There was a walnut tree across the street that turned yellow one afternoon – maybe within an hour – but I postponed the shot. The next day was dull and wet, the light was just wrong. And the following day? The leaves had all fallen.

Well, it will all be gone soon. The phenomenon is a lesson in attentiveness and acceptance in the present.

Where King Salmon reigns

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. Though they live in desert, it still spawns salmon.

Oh, what a fish.


  1. There are eight commercially important species of salmon in the Pacific, and nine in the Atlantic.
  2. Some species can reach five feet in length and 110 pounds in weight.
  3. The body color changes, depending on habitat and the mating seasons. It’s not always the dark orange we see on our dinner plate.
  4. They have a lot of natural enemies, including big fish, whales, sea lions, and bears. Commercial and sport fishermen take a big toll, too.
  5. They’re healthy food, rich in proteins, Vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
  6. They can survive three to eight years in the wild.
  7. They travel thousands of miles from their freshwater spawning areas out to the sea and then return to their birthplace to spawn more. They can climb up to 7,000 feet elevation from the sea to accomplish this. Most will then die of exhaustion.
  8. They do not eat any food during the time they swim upstream to spawn.
  9. Swimming upstream, they can jump two yards in the air.
  10. A female Chinook salmon can carry more than 4,000 eggs.

Wet wonder

We haven’t had much rain this year, which makes it all the more amazing when our garden gets some natural relief. This is from one of those rare breaks in our drought.


The asparagus almost looks like a bank of fog.


A broad Brussels sprouts leaf cups clear rainwater.



Prime time for an afternoon along the Atlantic

Fellow blogger Mark Bialczak’s recent posts about his romantic getaway from his home in Upstate New York to the Cape (as we New Englanders refer to Cape Cod) kinda guilted me into giving myself a day off and taking a few hours at a beach a bit over a half-hour’s drive from my little city farm.

Yeah, I know I’m retired (or was, before signing on as a Census enumerator … yesterday was a day off for me). Still, somehow, I get tied down at home. Haven’t swum in the ocean in the past three years, for that matter, not since getting the city pool pass. I always think there’s too much other stuff to tend to.

So yesterday, telling myself the season’s running out, I hopped in the car a tad before noon and simply took off. I thought about heading north to the mountains, but I’d already done a work-related drive in the direction earlier in the day, so I veered east into Maine and settled on Fort Foster, a Kittery town park situated at the mouth of the Piscataqua River.

Regular visitors here at the Red Barn have seen many images from this tranquil alternative to the more popular beaches just up the coast from it. For us, it’s closer than the beaches in New Hampshire, and always less crowded. During the summer, there’s an admission fee, which limits traffic, and for several seasons I opted for a season pass, sometimes spending an afternoon in the water before heading an hour inland for an evening shift in the newsroom. Even so, as I said, for the past several years, I’ve just been more of a homebody, with writing and revising as a top priority.

After Labor Day, the park gate is open only on weekends through September, but it is possible to park outside and walk in, which was the case yesterday. Despite the number of cars lined up along the road, I encountered few people in the park itself, most older couples or individuals walking a dog.

En route, I stopped at the Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier for raw oysters on the half shell, which is always a rare treat for me. It’s a lovely setting, a deck over the water in a narrow tidal passage off Pepperell Cove, and typically crowded. Some diners even arrive by boat. After Labor Day, though, the tourists thin out, making for a perfect time to enjoy our  local attractions. Maybe it has to do with Covid somehow, but the oysters yesterday were smaller than usual, especially for this time of year, when they’ve fattened up for winter. No complaints, though, they were still tasty. If only I could learn to shuck them myself. It’s a skill, one that can lead to emergency-room stitches for an amateur.

‘Nuff background. Here’s a sampling of what I enjoyed a mile or two later.

The road into the park splits, with one branch crossing a marsh filled with cattails. As I walked along it, I was struck by the way Whaleback lighthouse seems to pop from the trees, rather than its usual position surrounded by tides.
For the most part, I had the oceanside trail to myself. Autumn was definitely in the air.
This pebble beach is my usual place to swim. It’s less buggy than the sandy stretches further on, and less crowded than the pocket beaches along the river. My fingers indicated the water was still warm enough for swimming, though I hadn’t brought a swimsuit. September can be some of the best times for swimming, but the cooler air can be a problem. The current also looked a bit rough, not that you see it in this photo.
A wave pours into a tide pool. Had I come prepared, wearing old sneakers and a swimsuit, I would have been in the water, looking under rocks for starfish, urchins, anemone, and other colorful life.


Ten cool facts about glaciers

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. One of its features is the glaciers on Mount Rainier and Mount Adams.

Glaciers are made up of permanent snow cover that’s become compacted into what are sometimes called rivers of ice as they are pushed down a mountainside or valley.

Here are some details.


  1. About 10 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by glacial ice, but that’s shrinking fast.
  2. Glaciers store about 75 percent of the earth’s fresh water.
  3. If all of the land ice melted, sea levels would rise 230 feet.
  4. During the last ice age, glaciers covered up to a third of the world’s land mass.
  5. Glacier National Park in the Rocky Mountains of Montana has 35 named glaciers. At current global warming rates, none will be left by the year 2030.
  6. Scientists categorize glaciers into eight types, from ice caps and continental ice sheets to hanging glaciers and cirques in depressions on a mountain.
  7. Their surface often appears rough and wrinkled, containing deep cracks or fissures known as cravasses. These can be a deadly hazard for mountain climbers, especially when hidden by fresh snow or a whiteout.
  8. Ice caves melting into a glacier mouth are filled with ethereal blue light during the day.
  9. Antarctic ice shelves calve icebergs that are up to 50 miles long.
  10. To be classified as a glacier, an ice field needs to maintain at least .1 square kilometer of size throughout the year. That’s nearly 25 acres or 19 football fields.


Have you ever seen one? Up close?

Two climbers pass under a glacier. (Photo by Kurt E. Smith)