The Peak of Fall Colors

We Midwesterners love to fret about the Fall.

“The maples don’t seem to be as vibrant as usual this year.” Or, “It’s awful warm for October, don’t you think?” Or “I’m worried that we’re going to skip fall and jump straight to winter this year.” You know: that sort of thing. Sometimes the conversation will veer into more existential territory, talking about global climate change and things like that. But mostly, it’s just banal chit-chat and socially-acceptable hand-wringing.

I personally believe that the Fall season is far more regular and predictable than we often make it out to be. It’s only the tiniest changes in foliage that we see in September, usually with some maples and sumacs. By November it’s almost always down to a more muted display of oaks and beeches. October, though, is where the action happens in Ohio.

This week, I’d say that we’re just about hitting the peak in these parts. A few trees are starting to empty out. A decent number of trees are still green. But the most dominant colors in most wooded areas are yellows, oranges, and reds. One of the best indicators to me is the Jessie Smith Nature Preserve, near my house. When I turn north onto Majors Road and descend the little hill towards the nature preserve, a riot of fall colors awaits. It almost literally takes my breath away. And this breathtaking view is what I’ve been experiencing the last couple of days.

The peak may extend through the end of the month, which is a little later than usual. But not much. A week or two “behind schedule,” at most. Have you ever heard of the Wooly Bear Caterpillar Prediction Method? The way I remember it, our wooly bears would seem to indicate a late start to winter, with a long black section towards the head. Then, there would be a long winter season, with a decently-long brown mid-section. And finally, a spring that is both late and short, indicated by a short black section near the tail. But the best sources I could find on the internet explain the Wooly Bear Caterpillar Prediction Method differently. And they also note that it hasn’t really been scientifically verified:

According to folklore, the amount of black on the woolly bear in autumn varies proportionately with the severity of the coming winter in the locality where the caterpillar is found.  The longer the woolly bear’s black bands, the longer, colder, snowier, and more severe the winter will be.  Similarly, the wider the middle brown band is associated with a milder upcoming winter.  The position of the longest dark bands supposedly indicates which part of winter will be coldest or hardest.  If the head end of the caterpillar is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe.  If the tail end is dark, the end of winter will be cold. In addition, the woolly bear caterpillar has 13 segments to its body, which traditional forecasters say correspond to the 13 weeks of winter.

It’s fun to speculate on these things. But it’s probably not very fruitful. For whatever it’s worth, I’m recording the observations here, for future reference. Then I’ll know, when we Midwesterners start to worry about it next year.

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