Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Leaves Fall and Birds Fly, and I Wonder Why

Bert Gildart: Back once again on Shades of Death Road in New Jersey, visiting family, camping out in their backyard. But what a contrast now of autumn with what we experienced this summer as we hiked through the Jenny Jump State Park, located along this infamous road.

Rather than warm muggy days, now we’re past the autumnal equinox, and the effects are apparent, particularly this fall. Leaves have turned, and we have, in fact, progressed deeply enough into fall so that many leaves have not only turned, but have started to drop.

At least that’s true at Jenny Jump, where all these photographs were taken, the first from inside a cave looking out.

The progression of fall conjures many a story I provided newspapers during my years in Montana as an outdoor writer, producing an Outdoor Journal for a number of years that went into several weekly newspapers.

Fall, of course, varies from region to region, and in Montana, it is presaged by the bugling of elk, which starts in late August and carries through the mating season, which ends in mid October.

It is followed by the rut of deer, and finally, by the battling of bighorn sheep–and seeing one of those battles is one of nature’s most incredible spectacles. It is also associated with the grand migration of birds, and in another month, if we’re lucky enough to see them fly, then I’ll try and tell you why.

But no less spectacular is fall along the Atlantic Seaboard, a spectacle we also have in the West, but not to the glorious extent that Janie and I are now experiencing.

Though a few patches of green are still with us, by and large that color has been replaced by the more emotive colors of yellow, orange and red, and though it is nice to simply enjoy those colors for the beauty they provide, knowing something about those changes has always enhanced my enjoyment.

The explanation is relatively simple.

Green is the color of spring and summer, and is the result of the pigment chlorophyll, found in chloroplasts, the cell structure in which photosynthesis takes place. In turn, chloroplasts contain carotenes and xanthophylls, which are the pigments responsible for the colors of red, orange and yellow.

For most of the time, however, at least in the life of a leaf, chlorophyll masks the other two pigments, but as light begins to diminish and days grow cool, chlorophyll begins to diminish, and the pigments responsible for the other colors now have their day in the sun.

Carotenes, for instance, are responsible for the reds we are now seeing in maples while xanthophylls are responsible for the yellows we are now seeing in many trees such as the birch.

The intensity of the colors is also easy to fathom, though not quite as cut and dry, for it is weather related. A combination of bright, sunny days and cool nights, coupled with ample moisture, produce the most colorful autumn scenes. Bright sunshine stimulates the leaves to continue producing sugars, while temperatures around 40°F trap these sugars.

Dry weather, on the other hand, diminishes the intensity of fall colors, because the parched leaves produce less of the pigment anthocyanin.

But the lack of brilliant colors doesn’t appear to be a problem this year, and hasn’t since we first began encountering fall back in the Maritimes.

That’s a good omen, as our travels will soon take us south through Shenandoah, atop the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then, into the Great Smokies—where we hope to see lots of color. Along the way, we also hope to see many spectacular bird migrations, and if we do, we’ll observe the phenomena of flights.

And we’ll try and explain how and why birds fly.

For now the sheer beauty of the colors along Shades of Death Road is satisfying enough.

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