by Larry Blake

Massachusetts fall lights up the woods from the Cape Cod Canal all the way to the Berkshires. It's a time to visit, a time to view and a time to enjoy the fruits and festivals of summer's end.

As summer nights reach the "one blanket" stage, rakes come out as the kids and pets work hard to destroy the neat piles of golden leaves which remind one that it's time to finish getting the wood in. As one crusty type noted, "Natives rake and either mulch or burn leaves. Newcomers buy noisy blowers or vacuums and bag leaves in plastic bags that probably polluted more than leaves would. Progress, eh."

For New England visitors, fall means foliage. Visits are now so popular that there are special "foliage hot lines." Foliage does mean different things to city folks who don't rake, than to suburban or rural home owners in well-wooded spots like Deerfield who may rank fall raking and leaf burning somewhere between ingrown toenails and root canal work. I have 17 trees in my yard; I'm in the latter class.


Historic Deerfield so loved by the New England Philosophers.

Fall in New England means festivals for everyone. Pilgrims launched festivals early with a Thanksgiving for a good harvest, but, as usual, the American Indians jump started the whole idea without getting much credit. Well, today you can follow the Mohawk Trail along Route 2 from Williamstown to Orange. This unique route started as an Indian trail and became America's first scenic highway. I suppose you can drop a dime or three at a tribal casino, too. Don't, if you visit the Mohawk Trail, miss the golden view from Mt. Greylock's summit, the highest in Massachusetts.

The Pioneer Valley's the Godzilla of golden foliage. We take the roads to Quabbin Reservoir instead of more crowded Route 8 in the Berkshires. The "Berks" mix wonderful foliage, classic inns, superior restaurants and all sorts of fall festivals. Other useful "Berk routes" include 116 and 9 in the Pioneer Valley, and Route 8 between Sandisfield and Dalton. Don't eat apple cobbler or pumpkin pies with cream on top, and you may not gain weight. That's the theory.

Do, if you gather leaves for the Thanksgiving table, stick with tree leaves you can identify. Poison ivy leaves turn wonderful colors, and many years ago we met two lovely young nurses from Boston who had arm's full of what looked like the definitive collection of poison ivy shades. We sent them back to their inn to soap down, but never heard how things scrubbed up.

It's also worth noting that you can get a world-class case of poison ivy from the smoke of its burning leaves. So stay out of smoke. Aside from that, and my personal pattern of extreme overindulgence in pumpkin pies and duck in orange sauce in food towns like Great Barrington, you're safe if you watch for rubber neckers and stay out of the woods during deer season.

If you don't want to drive, your alternatives include a ride on the Cape Cod Railroad along its wooded scenic canal route as you enjoy a five-course dinner. You could find an entirely legal high with balloon flights, complete with champagne out of New Bedford, the Berkshires and elsewhere -- see listings. A number of firms offer fall foliage bus tours with a nice Saturday inn overnight too.

The Quabin Valley offers more than its share of fine fall foliage.

Don't have time to leave town? Drive or take Boston's excellent, if old, underground to meet the Boston Park Rangers for weekend guided tours through the wonderful garden, the Emerald Necklace, which links a number of lovely Boston Landmarks with the Charles River. The Charles, so beloved by summer neckers over at Harvard who've caught their "Cliffies," sports lots of splashing during the "Head of the Charles" rowing event that's usually the third Sunday in October. I'm told it's customary to "take a little nip" against the cold even in shirtsleeve weather. So the river's not the only thing that's wet.

Cranberries offer their own fall color and the bogs seem particularly festive in the fall. Festivals let you enjoy "cranberry everything" -- I draw the line at cranberry toothpaste and toilet paper with cranberries on it! The 18th Annual Harwich Cranberry Festival starts in Early September and runs to October 23. The Massachusetts Cranberry Harvest Festival runs October 8 through 10 in South Carver. "Next door" Carver hosts King Richard's Fair where otherwise sane adults clobber each other with maces, swords and clubs or joust a buddy off his horse. This celebration of testosterone -- ladies are smart enough to dress up as barmaids, strumpets or ladies of the court and watch this with varied degrees of interest -- runs from early September through October 23. 

Spooky stuff in Salem includes candlelight tours of the Salem Maritime Museum, a "Psychic Fair" at the Old Town Hall and a Gravestone Rubbing Contest at the Salem Wax Museum. You'll also get tours of various houses, haunted and otherwise the week of October 21 to 31

There's lots more too as fall cools into winter. Chowder or clams at a wharf break up drives on brisk days. Then there's the apple stands and pies, the smell of burning leaves and the realization that another summer's gone and it's time for winter's renewal. Fall's special anywhere, but no place is it more special than in the New England woods..

Photo Credits: Kindra Clineff, Photos courtesy of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

Foliage Numbers

Massachusetts Fall foliage reports from Northeast states 800-632-8038

Massachusetts State Parks and Forests 617-727-3180

Balloon Rides

Balloon Adventures of New Bedford 508-636-4846

Aeronauts 617-861-0101

Balloon School of Massachusetts 413-245-7013

Berkshire Balloon 413-586-1755


Harwich Cranberry Festival 508-430-2811

Massachusetts Cranberry Harvest Festival 508-747-2350


King Richard's Faire 508-866-5391

Salem Witches and such 508-744-0004

Boston Park Rangers 617-242-5642



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