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Falling in Love with Foliage

Posted by A Colin Treadwell on 9/22/2016
Posted in: Musings From Colin Treadwell
Tags: Travel, Nature, Fall Foliage, New England

AHHH! Fall has arrived, and what a relief! September has broken the iron grip of the Dog Days and brought in those moderate days when conditions seem perfect for human comfort. A cool breeze caresses your cheek. The sun has taken on a new, softer and lower angle, casting long shadows that emphasize the features of everything its oblique rays fall upon.

The leaves have started to turn. The first few leaves that drift to the ground remind us of the coming of a great pageantry of the most extravagant color. The changing of the leaves is one of the great spectacles of nature. And it happens fast, from mid September to mid October.

The short duration of the phenomenon only adds to its sense of preciousness. Once the change breaks out it can burn rapidly across the countryside. But during those days it produces some of nature’s most flamboyant demonstrations of color as the leaves change from green to bright yellows, reds, purples and oranges, and finally to brown before they disintegrate to dust.

Colin Treadwell Fall FoliageThe sight of the changing leaves grips our hearts with a poignant reminder of our own place in nature. Autumn symbolizes our own mortality, the changing cycles of life, life passing into dust.

It reminds us of the Biblical pronouncement: “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

The metaphor connecting the seasons of the year to the seasons of life has been drawn upon many times in popular songs, such as “September Song”:

It’s a long long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September

Frank Sinatra evoked that feeling beautifully in the song “It Was a Very Good Year”:

And now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life
As vintage wine from fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year…

The Heavyweight Champion of Tours

The flaming pageantry of autumn brings a new suit of flashy new clothes to wherever the leaves change. But nowhere is it more spectacular than in the mountains and rolling hills, the winding roads, covered bridges and colonial churches and homes of New England. There is no better time than fall to visit New England. That fact made fall foliage tours the most popular of all tours. They had a major role in the building of the tour industry as it exists today.

I have heard that there is only one place where the autumn colours change more radically than in New England and that is somewhere in China. But whether that is factual or not, you get the point. Autumn is glorious, and in New England you can experience uber autumn.

When I first heard that fall foliage tours were the most popular tours I was surprised. Even though the fall was one of my favourite times of the year, it seemed odd that the biggest attraction of all for tour operators would be just leaves.

But it’s true. Fall foliage tours were historically the best selling of all tours and played a critical role in the building of Tauck Tours, and as other tour operators followed in Tauck’s footsteps, of the tour business itself.

The very first tours that Arthur Tauck Sr. operated in 1925 were tours of New England. The very first one was in July, so there was no fall foliage on that one. But it didn’t take long for Tauck to start to recognize the drawing power of fall foliage.

Soon Tauck was advertising fall foliage tours of New England. It really wasn’t just the leaves. It was that the splendor of fall foliage and the pleasant weather conditions of autumn made it perhaps the best time of the year to experience that unique region.

The tours were designed to show the country in a balanced presentation, including sightseeing attractions and historical sites as well as cityscapes and country landscapes.

Sightseeing in New England is an enchanting, richly layered experience, with its mountains, rocky coastlines, dense forests and rolling hills. The quaint storybook landscape reflects the historical birth of early America and the United States.  

The combined package was so rich that the foliage tours sold like proverbial hotcakes. In the ‘70s and ‘80s Tauck was running 28 departures a week of New England fall foliage tours.

Fall foliage tours became the backbone of the business. The great surge in demand at fall foliage time posed the greatest challenges for the company’s management of its resources, such as the hotels, motorcoaches and tour directors. The departures had to be carefully staggered so that no single hotel or site would be mobbed with too many travellers at a time.

Fall foliage tours were where the company cut its teeth in learning how to deal with the logistical challenges of carrying large numbers of people.

Tauck even had its own “foliologist,” the late Scotty Johnston, who watched the changing of the leaves closely year after year and was an authority on the intricacies of the process of change, able to predict how it would unfold, when and where.

Today the World

The fall foliage tour is no longer the heavyweight champ of the tour industry. The fading of foliage tours from the pinnacle of popularity coincided with Tauck’s expansion from domestic tours to international tours in the ‘90s.

International air travel has evolved to an extent almost undreamed of in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Now people can travel almost anywhere on earth in relative comfort. With so many exotic destinations becoming more easily attainable than ever before, there are just too many choices for fall foliage to hold onto its former position of dominance.

Today Tauck has several New England tours, including Hidden Gems of New England and Grand New England, which are descendants of the original New England tours of Arthur Tauck Sr. back in the 1920s. There are also The Hudson Valley and Cape Cod, The Islands and Newport. All of them have added departures during the foliage season.

Foliage is a moving phenomenon and as it passes over the landscape the cycle takes place at different times in different places. When the leaves first start changing in Vermont, they haven’t started in Massachusetts yet. So the experience will be different for different people at different times and places.

Hidden Gems of New England is one of the series of programs designed in partnership with Ken Burns and his historian scriptwriting partner Dayton Duncan. The itinerary is structured around favourite places of Burns and Duncan, including sites of natural beauty and sites of historical interest, such as the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe houses in Hartford, Connecticut, as well as Lexington, Concord and Boston.

Times have changed. Fall foliage is no longer the headline feature. But if you take the tour in the period from mid-September to mid-October, you can still take in the splendid display of the changing foliage. And who knows? It might even end up being your favourite part of the trip.

Happy Travels.

I remain,

Your Humble Reporter,

A. Colin Treadwell

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