Climate change claiming fall

Blog—Climate change claiming fallBy this time tomorrow fall will be here.

I woke up early today, earlier than I’d ever want to wake up on a weekend—even before my weekday alarm time. The bedroom window was open all night. It was cool and damp, and I could hear the last remnants of rain drizzling through the downspout. It was still dark, but I gave in.

I asked myself why weekend mornings should be any different than the rest of the week and then checked the network news on my phone. Climate change and global warming stories are always quick to catch my eye, and I get especially excited to see coverage of the subject in the mainstream media. But the headline that jumped off the screen this morning struck me as no other climate change headline ever has: “It’ll make you see red — or not: Warming could dull fall tree colors

Of all the sad, devastating conditions that climate change could bring, this one hit me like a brick. Why had I never thought of this? I love fall. No, really, I mean I love fall.

I have been fortunate enough to live in parts of the country where we actually have fall. It’s part of my life. The part of the year I look forward to most. This has to be an inherited trait.

When I was a kid my dad would take my younger brother and me on a leaf ride what seemed like every fall, but I’m sure it couldn’t have been. He’d pick the dreariest fall weekend day he could. It simply had to be raining for a good leaf ride. The colors seem even more vibrant and unexpected against a gray sky.

We would head up Routes 11 and 15 in central Pennsylvania. The ride seemed to take all day as a kid, but our destination was only about 30 miles from home. I chronicled this trip in a school writing assignment in high school. I really wish I had kept it.

The road hugged the path of the Susquehanna River in most places, and we could look across the water as we drove. On our side of the river we’d see homes and a few businesses here and there. Today I remember only the Indian trading post and a cute little Russian tea room where I always secretly wished we’d stop for lunch instead of going to Biff Burger as was the tradition.

Sometimes the fall trees didn’t deliver. It was too early, or the summer was too wet or too dry, or fall came and went seemingly overnight and we missed it. But some years were beautiful and they stick in my memory—looking up through the rain-dotted windshield at shocking red, orange and yellow. We’d turn a curve, “There’s a pretty one,” I can hear my dad. Somehow it was nothing like seeing the colors in our neighborhood. This was an event.

We were headed to the Millersburg Ferry. We’d drive through the campground where it was docked. My dad was never quite sure if it would be running. It seemed like the boats were always in jeopardy of being retired. The Millersburg Ferry was added to the National Register of Historic Sites in 2006, and you can find the story of the ferries—and the crossing schedule—online now.

I remember my dad joking about whether he thought it was safe to put his car on the rickety wooden paddle boats. Sometimes we’d ride The Falcon (the blue boat), and sometimes The Roaring Bull (the red boat) was in service. He told us the good thing was that if the boat sank halfway across the mile-wide stretch of river all we’d have to do is stand up. The water wasn’t deep.

He’d drive the car onto the ferry and we’d get out and walk around. There were no railings, and it felt like you could step right out onto the water. Some trips were cold. We’d sit in the cabin on hard benches covered with flat cushions. Thinking about it I can almost smell the air, thick and smoky from the wood burning stove. It was always refreshing to step back outside.

After we reached the eastern shore of the river we would head back home.

The sun is up now, and I can look out the window onto a line of trees at the edge of the yard. The leaves are still mostly green, but just the hint of a few yellow branches are beginning to peek out near the top. I can hear our resident sandhill cranes make a pass over the neighborhood. What will I do without fall?