December 28, 1998, January 4, 1999
When I was a kid, there was only one real tourist season in Maine: the three months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But in recent years the tourists have been reappearing a month or so later, as leaf-peepers. In October, their cars (most seem to be Volvos) fill the back roads between Kittery and Fort Kent, moving slowly, weaving back and forth across the center line as the drivers gawk out their windows, looking for that leaf-peeper El Dorado known as “peak color.” You also see their cars in New Hampshire, parked bumper to bumper along the breakdown lane as the owners train their Nikons down the gorges and ravines and frantically burn film, as well as farther west, in Vermont, where there’s a cider stand around every bend and folks from Wisconsin hobnob with folks from Illinois about where the color is best (they agree that it’s always north of where they are). But by late October—as the leaves start to dull and the trees show their branches (leaf-peepers don’t come for branches) they’ve gone home to eat their Thanksgiving dinners and Think Snow, as their bumper stickers say, only to return after New Year’s Day, no longer summer people or leaf-peepers but ski bums, with roof racks mounted on their all-wheel drives.