The US state of Washington bears the nickname “Evergreen State” for a reason. Its trees stay green the year around. The word for the annual October irruption of ‘leaf peepers’ (the tourists seeking explosions of color in forests, as trees drop their leaves for winter) is go east, young folks, go east! To the hills of Appalachia, or New England, or southeastern Canada, for example. ‘Cause, y’see, except where city dwellers have planted trees from foreign places that go scarlet (perhaps from embarrassment) in the autumn, the Washington state song is green stay the forests, oh!
This year (October 2016) is not ‘most years’. The evergreens around the Salish Sea coastlines are spangled with red – a most unusual, ‘leaf peeper’-y sight.
“What is wrong with the madrone trees?”, folk ask of people at the marine biology lab. For it’s the madrone trees, relatives of the blueberry, that are the ones turning red. Trees that are usually as evergreen as everything else in Washington forests. “Are they losing all their leaves? Are they dying?!?”
Well, no. Which, in this year of environmental and political catastrophes, is good news, for once. In fact, not only are the trees not dying, they are in abundant good health.
For the red color is not from falling leaves.
Madrone trees normally have red berries in the fall, berries that the first peoples used to eat or (more palatably) make cider from, and that other creatures would also eat – another name for the madrone tree is ‘bearberry’. In most years, however, the number of berries is too small to make the trees look like anything other than the evergreens that they are. This year, however, is a mast year for madrones. Which means they’ve gone hog wild with the berry-making business. Wild enough to make the trees turn red.
The bears should be very happy this year.
And those who wish to attempt the first people’s art of making madrone cider.
And, maybe, even a few displaced leaf peepers.
The madrone trees, already incredibly beautiful, are extra gorgeous this fall.