It’s fall in New Hampshire – foliage season – and there have been few foliage seasons better than this year’s. Add brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows to what seems to be the longest-lasting season in memory and it’s no wonder I’ve been dreaming all week about getting out for a hike this weekend.
Funny thing about foliage, though, is that it can change in the proverbial blink of an eye. All week long the colors have been at their peak, with Thursday’s, being a cloudy, rainy day, seemingly their most brilliant. But with the rain came a wind and suddenly, with the reappearance of the sun on Friday, it seemed the colors had headed south. So my plan was to follow the colors an hour south to Mt. Sunapee State Park and hike the northernmost leg of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway south to Lucia’s Lookout, a roughly 10-mile round trip. I had hiked to the Lookout from the south before, so I knew the payout would be good if the weather held out. This trail map shows the planned route.
Maybe it was the early start (with rain threatening later in the day, I was on the trail at sunrise) or the delayed gratification all week long, but once on the trail I began to ponder the words we use to describe the fall foliage. It felt to me that “near peak”, “peak”, and “past peak” don’t really give enough nuance to Nature’s performance. Even peak color is sometimes hard to define because it is often so fleeting, but to my mind the best indicator of peak is the presence of reds and bright oranges as the maples show off. This is followed by a “Golden Age” where the yellows and oranges of most of the other trees predominate.
After that comes what I call the “Bronze Age”, a longer period when the beech leaves fade from green-yellow to yellow-brown to brown but cling to the trees for an additional 2-5 weeks, until wind and snow detach most of them.
But with New England being settled by Europeans for nearly 400 years, I began to wonder how the foliage was described by our ancestors, and a little internet searching came up with some surprising results.
For nearly 150 years after the founding of the colonies, much of New Hampshire was sort of a “no man’s land” between the French colonists in the north and west and the English in the east and south, with both sides, together with their respective native allies, committing atrocities against the other. Raiding parties traveled north to south (or south to north depending who was doing the raiding) killing who they might and capturing others (for slaves, spouses, or simply for ransom) when it suited them. Heaven help the person who met a raiding party accidentally in the woods.
But out of this melange of cultures came a few interesting expressions that lingered in the New England lexicon. Foivy (also foyvy and foivey) was a word to describe the time when leaves have just fallen on the ground. It derives from the French feuille vit, meaning “living leaves”. Actually it refers to the dangerous times when newly fallen leaves make lots of noise in the woods, which could be quite perilous considering the circumstances. Here’s an example from Maj. Israel Blodgett (1753) at Fort #4 (later to become Charlestown NH) describing the situation when the fort was besieged by the French and their allies:
“…with woods so foivy we dasn’t leave to parlay”
Even after the wars with the French were over and the formerly dangerous areas were settled, September and October continued to be the months when the word was used, with its ominous connotations being reminiscent of the feelings nowadays associated with Halloween. I’ve chosen to use it in a positive sense in the title of this blog, more like the “time of rustling leaves”.
After the foivy times came the foymard time (also foimard and foymarth, from French feuille mort or “dead leaves”) used in late fall (or early spring) when rain or snow had softened or flattened the leaves, making travel relatively easy and safe. Its usage didn’t last as long as foivy.
Another interesting word was boycracken (also boicrackin, from the French bois craquant or “crunchy forest”), which was a noun, unlike foivy and foymard (both adjectives). Sarah Postlethwaite, who was captured in Massachusetts in 1732 by the French and spent 8 years in Quebec before being ransomed, used it in her memoirs when describing her abduction:
“Ye savages tarried not in the boycracken, lest they be overtak’t” [overtaken].
Although these words had generally disappeared from English usage by the time of the Revolution, their French equivalents continued for at least another 50 years, or so says the oddly-named Quebecois nun Anne-Poulet St. Thierry (Anne “the hen” St. Thierry) in her even more oddly-named 1890 treatise “Maudits Lexiques Quebecois du 18ieme Siecle” (either meaning “Quebecois Curse Words of the 18th Century” or “A Damn Quebecois Lexicon of the 18th Century” although no one is sure which). There is even a reference to their usage in the French settlement of Kaskaskia far from the New England forests in Illinois. But enough of this. If you want more information about these words, skip down to the footnotes at the end of the blog.
While pondering all this, I soon found myself reaching the end of the Andrew Brook Trail at picturesque Lake Solitude, really more of a pond than a lake. A canoe on the near shore looked tempting and, while the lake was sunny and beautiful for now, unfortunately the weather was soon about to change. Instead of climbing White Ledge with its remarkable view of the lake, my goal was to turn south on the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, following the western shore of the lake.
At the far end of the lake the trail ascended the long ridge that separates the eastern-slope towns of Newbury and Bradford from Goshen to the west. From here on the trail is really fun, with hardly any elevation gain or loss and a number of viewpoints along the way.
Although not heavily used in the manner of the Appalachian Trail, it nonetheless is well-signed and easy to follow. At points there are lots of huge boulders that the trail wanders through, making for an interesting hike.
But with about a mile to go, I began to hear thunder rumbling to the west. Fortunately I was able to get to several great overlooks before the clouds moved in and obscured the views.
With about a half mile to go the rain began. I quickly put on my poncho, although after about 15-minutes the rain had stopped and fog settled in for most of the rest of the day.
Reaching Lucia’s Lookout was a chance to stop and eat some lunch but the only views I got from there were of the fog. The hike back was mostly in the fog and I picked my way carefully. The only thing approaching ice in treacherousness is wet leaves. By going slowly, I only had a stumble or two.
Getting back to Lake Solitude afforded some nice misty views. But upon rejoining the main trail I quickly met lots of other hikers who, in spite of the weather, were on their way to the summit of Mt Sunapee. They were the first folks I had seen all day.
All in all, it was a great day and I look forward to doing more hikes along the 49-mile Greenway in the future. Happy travels!
End of blog. Paging down may expose you to ads…and a little surprise 🙂
If you have actually read this far, congratulations! In case you are wondering, the words and historical quotes described in this blog are entirely of my own invention and have no basis in fact. While driving early this morning to hike, I listened to A Way With Words on National Public Radio, a great nerd-fest of derivations, definitions, and lexicography that I always enjoy listening to, and was inspired to invent a few derivations of my own, especially to help fill the word-well where foliage season is involved. Oh, and Anne-Poulet St. Thierry? Say “Poulet St. Thierry” three times fast using your best Pepe LePew voice and then look up plaisanterie in your French-English dictionary. 😉