More than 50 years ago my freshman botany professor began a lecture by reading the essay “Smoky Gold” from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. Immediately after classes ended that day I hastened to the bookstore to buy myself a copy of Leopold’s book – which still resides on the shelf of my bookcase.
Leopold wrote: There are two times to hunt in Adams [County]: ordinary times and when the tamaracks are smoky gold. … The tamaracks change from green to yellow when the first frosts have brought woodcock, fox sparrows, and juncos out of the north. … I regard a phalanx of young tamaracks, their golden lances thrusting skyward. Under each the needles of yesterday fall to earth building a blanket of smoky gold …
There’s not much tamarack in northcentral Pennsylvania, it only occurs in some widely scattered wetlands that are relics and reminders of the last time a glacier came this way.
Instead, we have the October Gold of sugar maple leaves. Many of our sugar maples wear their autumn colors early in the season and then drop their leaves early. But, there are those individual trees that hold their leaves longer than most and grace the hillsides and field edges with their glorious color long after most of their neighbors display nothing but bare branches.
From a human perspective, sugar maples seem to be one of nature’s best creations – wood that is hard yet easily worked; excellent for flooring, bowling alleys, furniture, bowling pins, musical instruments and turned bowls; the provider of sap that, when boiled, becomes delicious maple syrup and maple sugar. Because of its brilliant fall coloration sugar maple is a favorite shade tree and brings hordes of leaf peeping tourists to areas where it is abundant.
In this age of rapid climate change the future of sugar maple is clouded. Sugar maple does not tolerate high temperatures well, and there are predictions that our average temperature will rise by 6-10 degrees over the next 100 years. If it does, sugar maple will be only a minor component of Pennsylvania’s forests when our grandchildren have grandchildren of their own.