Lake Massasecum

Scenic Lake Massasecum in Bradford is ringed in fall color.

By Dave Anderson

S o many leaves, so many ways to enjoy them.

It never fails — the fall foliage is stunning. Tonight’s October full moon marks the mid-point of Columbus Day weekend, the peak foliage across the Lakes Region and peak leaf peeping statewide.

Dave Anderson's Forest Journal

If the needle gauge has moved at all this year, it shows that fewer people are taking the state’s natural beauty for granted. Social media channels are stacked with breathless exclamations or colorful photos proving the brief fall foliage season remains THE favorite for a majority of residents and visitors alike.

What we may still take for granted is how fortunate we are to be among the “most-forested” regions in the country. A quick fact check reveals Maine is 90%, New Hampshire is 81% and Vermont is 73% forested, taken as a percentage of total land area. Together, northern New England and upstate New York comprise a vast forested realm. In fall foliage, trees are the reason for the season.

When we make time to “see the forests for the trees,” we might also remember how forests enhance our regional quality of life year-round with clean air, clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, wood products, recreation opportunities and stunning natural beauty that drives this short-lived foliage tourism season.

End of Sunday sermon. Now for the benediction: Get out there today to enjoy it!

There are likely as many different ways to enjoy the season as there are colorful leaves. Traditions abound. I am watching the ways people celebrate a season for loving leaves. Here are some suggestions:

Hikers on Silver Mountain

Hikers participating in the Forest Society’s “Five Hikes in Five Weeks” pose at the summit of Silver Mountain in Lempster.

Group up. Introverts need not apply. Invite a posse of friends or family for a weekend gathering. Make plans to spend time outside in the fresh air and peak colors now — before November’s “bare stick season” and pre-winter nesting impulse drives us indoors with the next rainy, windy weekend.

Hike it! There is almost a collective genetic memory at work when hikers behold sweeping views. Many people prefer the foliage panorama from atop a local hill or mountain summit when the foliage tapestry stretches across near and distant orange and ochre hills, spilling down into the valleys of red maple-tinged wetlands and along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. The contrast of dark conifers to colorful hardwoods offers a natural kaleidoscope in the White Mountains region.

Walk it! Adopt a slow pace and see more details. Surrender to that childlike impulse to drag your feet or go kicking through fallen leaves. The falling leaves can work on your soul if you slow down to let them.

Take in special events. Traditional fall celebrations this weekend include the Sandwich Fair and the Warner Fall Foliage Festival. There are too many more to list. Events are excellent choices for people-watching, leaf peeping and capturing the sights, sounds and tastes of the autumn experience.

Wooly bear caterpillar

A wooly bear caterpillar adds a touch more color to a fallen maple leaf.

Take a mystery tour! Create your own a scenic leaf-peeping tour. Leave home with no particular destination. Head north and west from the Seacoast or southern New Hampshire to take in the roadside foliage along state highways.

Get local. Stop at a general store for cider doughnuts or snappy old cheese. Visit a farm stand for apple picking or pumpkin hunting. Then pick a weekend kitchen project: carve a jack-o-lantern, roast pumpkin seeds, bake a pie or a butternut squash with maple syrup. New Hampshire farms provide culinary inspirations. Support local farmers living and working near you on permanently conserved farmlands.

Eat, Drink and Be Full. The state is full of restaurants, breweries and wineries hosting Octoberfest-themed events while serving up seasonal specialty foods and locally brewed beverages. Cool weather triggers a healthy appetite. You can literally eat your way across the Granite State this weekend. Merchants and restaurants count on Columbus Day weekend traffic to end their season in the black. If “Nature’s First Green Is Gold,” (Robert Frost) then the reverse may also be true: Nature’s Last Gold is Green.

Mountain ash berries

The bright berries of mountain ash are vibrant among the dropping leaves.

Sit still. Focus on a single calico green and red swamp maple leaf. Pick out a mountain ash with bright red berries or a single tree and take a closer look. Follow a falling leaf to the ground. Sit by a brook or mountain stream and watch leaves float downstream. Get small. Rest on a forest floor to study the intricacies of acorns and moss or the architecture of an autumn mushroom.

Nature is restorative. Get in touch with your own “inner foliage season,” a nostalgic tug you may feel as autumn leaves turn — like tiny traffic signals — from green to yellow and red.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Contact him at danderson@forestsociety.org.