Autumn On Cape Cod

Annual Autumnal Rampage Through Cape Cod...

We'll be the first to admit that Cape Cod is dead last in New England when it comes to foliage. If you're looking for that, you should have headed North earlier in the season. Foliage is what the gods made New Hampshire for. Even inland Massachusetts has it wayyyyy better than Cape Cod does. Nature loves balance, which is why Vermont or the Berkshires seldom have beach days.

Cape Cod had a greater variety of trees before settlers arrived from England. After the last Ice Age, our weather and sandy soil dictated our tree life. We were never as colorful as Maine in October, but we had a greater variety and density of forest.

As you might imagine, the Wampanoags and the Nausets took better care of the forest than the English did. They practiced prescribed burns, which kept the forests from overlapping, and which also kept brush from accumulating. The English- especially after the Great London Fire of the 1660s- didn't like fire. They refused to burn up the brush... so when lightning hit the wrong places, we'd have catastrophic Cape Cod conflagrations. Cape Cod was actually known for her wildfires before it was settled more heavily, and is still a threat for a good Burning when things get dry.

Fire was not the only threat. The white folk sure don't seem to like forests. They cleared massive amounts of forest for farming. Before you could ship and store refrigerated food, you needed to have about half the town farming. Throw that in with Firewood and Shipbuilding, and we soon were losing our topsoil. "Barren" became a Cape Cod adjective, and we were importing our firewood from Maine by the time of the Industrial Revolution.

We have a lot of pitch pine and scrub oak. We also have scrub pine, much of which was imported and planted after forest fires denuded sections of the Cape. Scrub pine is known for dominating and nourishing the landscape for 75 years or so, before other trees move in and take over. Our grandchildren will enjoy better foliage than that which we currently see on Cape Cod, although that is offset somewhat by overdevelopment. We are the north end of the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens, and we are what is known as a pitch-pine and scrub-oak woodland.

End result? We're better than 90% of the country, but half of that remaining 10% are up on our borders.

No, Cape Cod is more sporadic with her foliage. We're more of an opportunistic, "Oooh, look!" sort of foliage tour.  We get bursts of color in batches. We have no real hills, where you can gaze down like a Mountain Boss on a valley full of crimson, scarlet, gold, burnt orange and screaming bright green. We kind of lost the Leaf Lottery.

Only a Fool would go to Cape Cod to look for foliage.... but Fools sometimes have a pretty good time.

(Bourne, near the Canal.... I actually had to tone the color down in this, it was too blurry otherwise)

We thought that we'd set out to see what the Upper Cape has to offer for fall foliage. We took Route 6 to Route 130 to Route 151 to Route 28A to Route 28, and we covered parts of Sandwich, Mashpee, Falmouth and Bourne.

We essentially ran a loop around the Otis Air National Guard base. There was probably better foliage inside the reservation, but I don't get in there much. I didn't want to take a wrong turn, see some Area 51 sh*t, and become an Unperson.

The Upper Cape has better foliage than the rest of Barnstable County. Due to the military reservation and the presence of power lines, the Upper Cape forests have been managed better. We presently do controlled burns at a rate unseen since the pro-Colonial times. The Upper Cape is also closer to the better foliage of the Inland, so the pine-nourished forests here get first crack at the reintroduction of Trees From Back In The Day. Therefore, the Upper Cape's forests are more mature. 

(Mashpee, off Rte 130)

"Leaves in temperate, boreal, and seasonally dry zones may be seasonally deciduous (falling off or dying for the inclement season). This mechanism to shed leaves is called abscission. After the leaf is shed, a leaf scar develops on the twig.

In cold autumns (like those we have here on Cape Cod), they sometimes change color, and turn yellow, bright-orange, or red, as various accessory pigments (carotenoids and xanthophylls) are revealed when the tree responds to cold and reduced sunlight by curtailing chlorophyll production. Red anthocyanin pigments are now thought to be produced in the leaf as it dies, possibly to mask the yellow hue left when the chlorophyll is lost—yellow leaves appear to attract herbivores such as aphids.

The popular belief that plants shed their leaves when the days get too short is misguided; evergreens prospered in the Arctic circle during the most recent greenhouse earth. The generally accepted reason for shedding leaves during winter is to cope with the weather – the force of wind and weight of snow are much more comfortably weathered without leaves to increase surface area. Leaf loss may also have arisen as a response to pressure from insects; it may have been less costly to lose leaves entirely during the winter or dry season than to continue investing resources in their repair."

I actually knew all that off the top of my head, and didn't steal it off Wikipedia for educational purposes.

(Forestdale, extreme green....)

Stands of native trees that can be found on the Cape include: American holly (Ilex opaca), coastal basswood (Tilia neglecta), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), black birch (Betula lenta) and post oak/hickory associations.

We also have some spruce, dogwood, and even Japanese Maple. We have other stuff, but a picture is woth a thousand words with trees.

I love this shot down below:

A) That tree up there above looks like like it's on fire, no?

B) That tree, and the green tree in the picture above it, are both in the same yard.

Cape Cod, which doesn't really have heavy population density, is still way more crowded than the leaf-peeping parts of New Hampshire. While there are numerous quaint parks and trails on Cape Cod, the scarcity of Fine Foliage here means that sometimes a good journalist has no choice other than to pull over in someone's yard and walk to wherever the best shot is to be taken from. I have already forgiven in advance the next homeowner who punches me in the face for walking through his yard.

Falmouth, representing hard on the leaf cover for the ground.

Raking leaves is the dark side of Fall Foliage. It sure is pretty, but it sure is a pain in the ass to rake up. It's worse up North... you can lose a border collie in the leaf cover we get up at the New Hampshire cabin.

Cape Cod has enough foliage to make sure that nobody here goes broke selling rakes this October, although we get the less-fun-to-jump-into pine needles as the majority of the ground clutter.

I can't say that having someone I can force into raking leaves is the main or even main-supporting reason that I got married, but it does merit a percentage grade. I'm only good at jumping onto the leaf-piles. Men, with their greater heights and longer arms, have a greater Raking Radius than women do, and therefore rightfully bear the brunt of the responsibility.

Cataumet, gettin' all high yella on ya....

The best time to go leaf-peeping on Cape Cod is very late October. We're about the warmest part of New England, and we turn over last. You'll still be able to see good foliage up near Thanksgiving.

I will mention that a good windstorm can instantly end fall foliage season in this part of New England, and we're presently very lucky that we've made it this far in the year without having one. October is the unofficial start of Nor'easter Season.

We actually look pretty good heading towards Halloween. We were forecast to get a nor'easter on Halloween in the long-range forecast, but that is no longer the case. The next windstorm looks like Novermber 8th.

Sagamore, Cape Cod Canal

Due to our lack of sweeping vistas, someone doing a foliage tour of Cape Cod can't climb a mountain to shoot a panoramic shot of a valley full of Peak Leaf. We spent several hours looking for that shot today, and- to be frank with the reader- we never came close to a Calendar Shot.

However, the Cape has not peaked yet. Our foliage will soon be at her most excellent, and we pretty much own the 9th inning of fall foliage baseball in New England. New Hampshire is all brown and boring now, and- to be quite honest- there isn't much doing north of the border until whenever the hell ski/syrup season commences.

On the other hand, Cape Cod is just finishing off her peak season. Locals will tell you that October is the best time to come here. You still get warm days, you get amazing sleep weather, the New Yorkers/Connecticutians are gone, the roads are empty, the waitresses are relaxed/happy, the stores are having sales to clear the shelves so they can Snowbird off to Florida, the hotel rates are way down, and you can have a mile of pristine beach to your lonesome.

We'd highly recommend Cape Cod to anyone who couldn't get up to Vermont earlier in October. If you want to see fall foliage after Halloween, Cape Cod is your best bet.

We'd also like to do a little bit of the Lord's work.

See below.

As you can see, the Bourne United Methodist Church (Rev. Tim Atwater, Pastor) is selling pumpkins to benefit the Bourne Food Pantry.

I would still recommend the pumpkin patches in the area (future article) when looking to acquire a Heavyweight/Anchorman-style pumpkin, but you can score all sorts of decorative gourds while helping out a good cause.

We highly recommend going down Sandwich Road... just before the Bourne Public Library... and gathering up the goodness.

Check that row down below.... third one from the left looks like MC Escher grew it.

CapeCodToday.com welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on CapeCodToday.com.