Whidbey is past its peak, at least for autumn colors. Even that isn’t certain, but we must be close. The Northeast’s colors support a multi-billion dollar surge in tourism for classic images of autumn colors, a prelude to the equally Currier and Ives holiday season. Color happens everywhere, but different places provide different experiences. Statistically, Whidbey Island’s peak colors happen late September through early October. Whidbey doesn’t always do what it is supposed to. The colors are hanging onto the trees, even here in early November. That’s not the only difference.
What does the conifer think about the deciduous tree beside it? That’s not meant as a straight-line, but you’re welcome to play with it. Western Washington’s forests are dominated by pines, cedars, and firs – tall conical trees that hang onto their needles throughout the year. Rhododendron’s and salal’s green leaves maintain perennial foliage below the needled canopy. Then there are the weed trees that are called weeds because they spring up quickly in any bit of forest opened by a fallen tree or a landslide. Big leaf maple, alder, and vine maple. They may not grow as fast as other weeds, like nettles and thistles (which have other kinds of value); but they outgrow the slow conifers – for a while. The conifers are stoic and patient. The broad-leafed neighbors flash green in the spring, fill the empty spaces, then create a cascade of earth tones – sometimes in leaves a foot across.
Because Whidbey Island is a network of micro-climates within a temperate micro-climate, pockets peak at different times. Rather than everything going on display in unison, the trees spread out their colors for weeks. Higher elevations are colder, and possibly earlier. This late in the year, some neighborhoods begin to lose a few hours of daylight to surrounding forests. Drive around long enough and find something worth sharing on social media.
The mowing season may be almost gone, and Washington may be called the Evergreen State (though that’s up for debate in some counties); but there’s yard work to do. Leaves on lawns are the classic chore, with some arguing that leaving leaves on lawns is a good way to compost in place – or a rationalization for not adding raking to the list of chores. Another tactic is to wait for the inevitable November wind storm and hope the leaves fly to someone else’s property. Good luck with that because you’re probably someone else’s downwind neighbor (unless you moved to just the right property.)
Winds don’t seem to help clearing a house’s roof. Leaves and needles accumulate, sometimes aided by moss. None of them weigh much, but their impact is felt as they clog gutters, ditches, and storm drains. Now’s the time to clean (and maybe dump them back onto the lawn?).
A major contributor to the colors are the people. Yes, the people are colorful; but the ornamental plantings are the source of more reds and golds. Japanese Maples are particularly popular. Everywhere has at least some color, and those colors can remind a person of home. Whether that is from the west and Asia or the east in New England, Native foliage act as a frame to what we paint with plants.
We may be past the peak, at least for this year. Fortunately, thanks to nature and locals, the season lasts a little bit longer – and is as convenient as the next neighborhood.