Golden oaks

The fall foliage in Massachusetts is presently past its prime, which means the brightest leaves have already fallen. Every autumn in New England features a predictable parade, with the maples’ reds and yellows presenting the brightest—and earliest—color while the oaks bring up the burnished rear. We’ve now entered the bronze age, the time of year when hearty oaks prevail over flamboyant maples, and the landscape is cloaked in brown and gold. This is autumn’s ripening time, when all of nature is either seedy or going to seed.

Yellow bus with golden foliage

These weeks of late October and early November are probably my favorite time of year for this very reason of being past-prime. Anyone can be charmed by the eye-popping spectacle of early autumn, its yellow and red color scheme as garishly obvious as a McDonald’s sign: golden arches at every turn. But in October, the oaks come into their heyday with colors that are more somber and subtle: burnt gold, burnished brown, and hammered bronze. In these weeks of October-into-November, most of the leaf-peeping tourists have headed home, and only the locals are around to relish and rake the leaves that remain. On the ground, oak leaves look dead, but while clinging to the trees, they shimmer with a subtle sheen of tans, beiges, and browns: earth colors in all their flesh-toned glory.

Surving Massive Oak inside construction zone

Although two of Framingham State’s massive oaks were cut down last summer to make room for an ongoing construction project, campus has not been completely bereft of old oaks. These belated days of autumn boast a well-ripened beauty that is striking precisely because it looks its age. Spring is the season for lush young lovelies, and September offers the newly ripening edge of maturing fecundity. The weeks of late October, on the other hand, lean deep toward death and decay: neither a bride nor young mother, but a middle-aged matron who soughs and settles into increasingly chilly nights, her wooden bones creaking. I cherish these weeks of late October because the passage of time is so apparent now, every burst of wind uncovering another branch, another bough, another wrinkle on the earth’s aging face.