Last Leaf on the Tree

The photo above was taken at around 1:00 p.m. September 21 in upstate New York, as the leaves were just beginning their annual color change. Starting with a deep green, they shift in color to a weak green, then yellow, then a red that I find beggars my attempts to describe it; it is a red I refer to as “fall foliage red,” because I do not run into it elsewhere.

This of course is a global phenomenon and most human beings do not need my poetical-ish endeavors in description, but we here in the Northeastern United States have fashioned something of a tourist trap out of this simple natural fact of life. “Come See Biology Happen!”

I do not know if other countries with similar climates as ours, usually found at the 42nd parallel north (a line I am just south of), have the “leaf peeper” phenomenon, but around here and in hilly areas north of here (Vermont, especially) by October 1 we start to see weekend visitors leave their cities and their sidewalk trees or their plowed-over suburban tracts of land with five carefully placed trees per yard that are each still only four inches in diameter to come stare at ours and re-remember what hillsides look like. We sell them calendars crammed full of 12 beautiful and glossy photos of the green and red hillsides that they have been staring at and the hillsides they have not yet been to, photos they will look at in their cubicles next summer, when they will make plans to visit us again in the fall, so they can buy yet another calendar.

The circle of life is seen vividly in the changing colors of the leaves and in the annual calendar purchases of the leaf peepers.

People who live in every region of the world must take advantage of something natural and available to attract visitors—the ocean and beaches, a mountain, or a major, powerful river—in the northeast we attract outsiders with something ephemeral, short-lived, yet constant: A season’s change, which takes mere weeks to complete, but it will be here again same time next year.

The red leaves then turn to orange and brown but by then most of them are on the ground, after rain and wind has knocked them off the trees. The leaf peepers do not stay behind and help us rake them up and dispose of them, which sadly for them and for us denies them the complete autumnal equinox experience. Sad, really. We could use the help. But they must return to their homes and find the perfect spots on their drab cubicle walls for their 2015 Fall in Vermont calendars.

We upstate New Yorkers, who live in a region that lacks a colorful nickname despite our colorful autumn—are we Hudson Valley-ites? Hudson Valleyers? Upstaters? Upstites? Catskillers? Upper Delawarians? Mohawk Valleyans? Mohawk Valets?—we remain. Someone is needed to take the photos that populate the calendars, and someone is needed to grow the fake pumpkins for the very real pumpkin spice lattes. (I had not yet had one until the year before last, when I relented and had my first PSL. Then I had my second, and a third, and so on. Our fellowship meetings will start up again in October.)

With winter’s first brushstroke, always a gray-white (there is such a thing), the tourists and our ephemeral attraction alike depart. And we remain. Every year, we are our own last leaf on the tree.


I’m the last leaf on the tree
The autumn took the rest but they won’t take me
I’m the last leaf on the tree

I fight off the snow
I fight off the hail
Nothing makes me go
I’m like some vestigial tail
I’ll be here through eternity
If you want to know how long
If they cut down this tree
I’ll show up in a song.

* * * *
This first appeared in different form last September.

* * * *
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  1. nonsmokingladybug · June 16, 2015

    i am the biggest Tom Waits fan there is (don’t tell anybody), so thank you for the song. I can’t speak for all countries, but can tell you about Austria and Italy. Autumn there is very special there as well, particularly in the Alp region. “City folks” some from everywhere to see the changing colors and hike and walk for hours in absolute beauty.


  2. Insach · June 16, 2015

    Great piece 🙂
    May I nominate you for the Allergic to ‘E’ Challenge. You can visit my page (for more info – rules and everything). Thanks!!


  3. wscottling · June 16, 2015

    It’s not just up in the Northeast… The Shenandoah Valley has leaf peepers too. We drove four hours from Virginia Beach (when I lived there with my kids) to drive through the Skyline Drive, hike some of the trails along there and take lots of pictures of the changing leaves. It was beautiful. A long-assed day, but beautiful.


  4. loisajay · June 16, 2015

    The PSL ‘phenomenon is too funny. I like them (I have the fellowship meeting in Oct on my calendar), but I crack up at the ‘Announcement’ that Starbucks advertises each year. So, color change and spice lattes it is…..


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