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Nice view of Wachusett from Rollstone Hill, but where are the colors?

I was heartened this morning by a story about the fall foliage on the front page of the Sentinel and Enterprise. They even had a couple of pictures of brightly-colored trees, to help make the point. So, after dinner, I decided to head out to see for myself.

This time I went someplace I hadn’t been to in a while – the old quarries at the top of Rollstone Hill in Fitchburg. I was in for a couple of surprises.

First, the old dirt access road off Pratt Road was now a paved driveway with a new house at the end of it. But just past the house there was a gate, and the road continued – not the old path I remembered – but a wider and graded dirt road. It led to a new communication tower. There were signs of recent quarrying, too.

Like I said, it’s been a while.

Eventually the improved roadway ended, and it was back to the old paths I remembered.

The top of the hill is strewn with huge, jagged chunks of granite, left behind after the quarries closed in the 1940s. It was up here that the famous Rollstone Boulder used to sit, perched above the city. The 110-ton boulder was left there by the glaciers 10,000 years ago. During the 1920s, people began to worry that with all the quarry work, it might roll down into the city.

So they did the only sensible thing. The boulder was blown up and re-assembled on a traffic island at a busy intersection at the end of the Upper Common.

Back to my search for brilliant fall foliage. Newspaper stories notwithstanding, there wasn’t any.

It was fun scrambling around the big rocks. The hill dominates the surrounding landscape, and offers great views. But once again, there was hardly any bright foliage color. What colors there were, were muted.

I’ll just have to try again next weekend.


The landscape is showing little or no foliage change yet.

With a day off from school and a clear blue sky overhead, I decided to set off this morning on a hike along a section of the Mid-State Trail that would take me over the Crow Hill Ledges in the Leominster State Forest. The trail offers several terrific views, perfect places to enjoy the fall foliage.

Only there wasn’t any. Or not much, anyway. It seemed maybe only 10 percent of the leaves had changed color so far, and they weren’t especially bright, either. This is traditionally the peak period, so what gives?

The short answer is no one knows.

Traditionalists will point out that some years are spectacular, others aren’t. Some years the foliage peaks early, other years later. Some years are too wet. Others are too dry. Mother Nature can be fickle that way.

Phenologists – the scientists who study timing in nature are just beginning to turn their attention to this fall phenomenon. They agree that the quality of a foliage season is dependent on several factors, making it difficult to find any kind of a trend, and to be able to come up with a credible trend requires years of reliable observation and documentation.

Here are a few things they’ve found.

The growing season in the Northern Hemisphere has been extended by 6.5 days between 1982 and 2008. At the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass., researchers report that the leaves are changing – on average – three days later than 20 years ago.

So what does this mean?

In part, it fits in with other changes that can be linked with global climate change. It’s also slow and gradual, so it’s not as if our spectacular autumns are gone forever. They just might be a week later than we’re used to.

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