Friday, September 30, 2011

Canopy Color

Four weeks ago, flying over the Ozarks in a beautiful Cessna 172 Skyhawk, the drought-stricken woodlands from the St. Francois Mountains to the Missouri River Hills looked like fall had arrived on Labor Day with browned out white oaks dotting the landscape. This won't be the first year the Ozarks has a somewhat lackluster fall color display; for the past 6 years or so, weather conditions and larger weather patterns have made for muted fall colors in the Ozarks, with the highlights actually in the midstory with salmon orange sassafras and blood red aromatic sumac.

Historic photos from the 1980s of the Meramec River Valley resemble an oil painting: bright red maples, maroon white oaks, golden hickories, all without the brown tinge we've seen on the leaves these past few years. However, fall floating season is well underway with canoe rental discounts, no drunk kids, no hordes of well-behaved church groups and boy scouts braiding the river system, just a few fishermen and people like me who don't like to be around other people on rivers. Visit the upper Current with her moist, cool, steep valleys that were spared drought (what with those mesic soil conditions and north slopes)--fall is setting in, and it's lovely down there. The cardinal flower has finished blooming, but the blue lobelia is in perfect flower. (Look for the hybrid between the two on the Jack's Fork.) Grass of Parnassus and the fen-specific Rudbeckia fulgida are both in bloom and the maples are dropping red and yellow leaves all over the river.

For a driving or bike tour, you can't miss Hwy 94 and the KATY across the river from Hermann. The river hills are chocked with sugar maples and when they turn colors, the scene is reminiscent of Vermont-pass the exit to Hermann and head towards Treloar. While in that part of the country, cross the river to see a host of fine Missouri wineries in action--harvest is well underway, with Cabernet Franc and Norton up next. Ask about this year's vintage, talk to Jerry at Robller in New Haven to hear this thoughts on the season. Fall color in the canopy may not be as spectacular as long time residents remember it once was, but the grape harvest is a success, the asters and goldenrods are blooming, and local winesap apples are at farmer's markets.

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