I love this time of year. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the showy maple leaves that peaked a few weeks ago, or the bright yellow poplar and birch leaves that have just fallen. But now, with most of the other deciduous leaves gone, it’s the oaks turn to show off. Some may think that the dull reddish-brown color of their leaves in mid-November isn’t really worth much special attention. And maybe they really can’t win in a direct comparison to a spectacular maple at its peak color. But what I appreciate about oaks is that now is the time when I can see where on the landscape they find the right conditions to live.
In the summer, when all the trees are green, it can be hard to pick out the oaks on the wooded ridge line in my valley. Now, their brown crowns stand out on the hillsides against the darker gray, leaf-less tree trunks of the other species in our woods. And, where are these oaks? Here, at mid-elevation Vermont, the oaks are concentrated on the narrow, south-facing noses of our long ridge lines. On most of the ridge in my valley, the maples and beech are the dominant species, as my neighbors who are sugar-makers are well aware. But the oaks make it clear just how much warmer and sunnier the south-facing noses really are. And this week is the one time of the year when it all becomes so clear.