The photos to the left were taken in November of 2016, just a year ago, on our property in a residential neighborhood in Quincy. They're typical of other autumns -- not only here, but everywhere in New England.
Orange, yellow, red -- the colors of the autumn leaves. New England's claim to fame. It's New England brand name autumn foliage.
Where is it -- was it? -- this year.
We went to the Berkshires in October. The color was muted. We went back two weeks later. Some trees were bare; some were partially turned. Even then the color was spotty, hit and miss, muted even when present. The trees did not act in concert this year.
The trees were confused.
Always we turn to the weather for explanations. The weather was too wet, or not wet enough. Last year, the year these photos were taken, the summer weather was so dry it reached severe drought in most places. But still the Japanese maple, at left, turned red.
The maple tree below it, a native variety planted along the street in front of our house by the city, turned orange.
The fourth photo down, our Japanese weeping cherry turned yellow, though as memory has it, some years the color was more pale yellow and uniformly sublime.
This year spring rain removed the region from drought status and the rain continued in early summer. But from mid-summer on, the rain failed. Perhaps the trees are still suffering from a long period of insufficient water.
I could not help noticing that among the 'street trees' in our city neighborhood leaves began drying up early, in late August and September. They didn't turn colors, they simply dried up, turned brown at the edges and fell into the gutters. These trees had few leaves left to change colors in the true fall of the year
The explanation for this year's poor foliage season that I have heard mentions the absence of a proper 'signal' to the trees to stop sending chlorophyll to their leaves -- the signal is a couple of cold, below-freezing nights. When the chlorophyll pipeline is turned off, other chemicals present in leaves (such as carotin) dominate the color of the leaves as they dry out and fall off their branches.
I think the cold temperatures came with unusual abruptness in November. Now the season felt too late for the staged withdrawal of 'food' from the leaves. No elegant turning. Simply dry up and fall.
I don't have photos similar to these from the autumn of 2017. I didn't photograph the trees in their majestic autumn tints, because those colors weren't there.
I am really hoping that this is truly an outlier year for a set of conditions that robbed the trees (and us autumn-lovers) of their customary treat for the eyes.
And not a trend.