Peak has peaked. Peak has punked out.
In the great northeast in the fall we always talk about whether the leaves are peak. When you head upstate to pick apples and pumpkins you want to know: Is it peak? In other words, are the woods in all their glory?
As our peak is beginning to peter out, I began to wonder what the concept meant more precisely, so I asked the nearest folks I could find.
Gil (scanning the horizon over the marsh): Well, there is still some green and there’s brown too, so… I dunno.
Maud: Isn’t it different for everybody?
Yes, when the leaves on the trees are as yellow as butterflies, that is some person’s idea of bliss. The best ever. And when the hills are a patchwork of gold, red, orange – but it has to be a perfect day, too, with a vast well of sunshine lighting it all up – and things are going well for you, too – that’s peak for some. Identifying what is beautiful with some kind of precision, it’s a way we define ourselves.
For me, I like the browns. In fact I’m the only person I know whose preferred color is brown. Today I spent time with two handsome pin oaks, currently my favorite tree. They have the leaves with points so sharp they take their name from them, and deeply scalloped sides – called sinuses in the tree world. The pointy parts are lobes and the leaf body itself is a blade, in the department of things we all really should know.
These two fairly massive pin oaks, Quercus palustris, one with a caliper of 21 inches and one fully 26 in diameter, stood in front of a small Asian lady’s house on East 55 Street in Brooklyn, shedding acorns as our crew put in a sidewalk around their roots. Wasn’t Sir Isaac Newton inspired by an apple falling and striking him on the head? I got a lot of ideas today from acorns bonking me on my skull.
“I remember when they brought these trees here to plant them,” reminisced the homeowner, talking about the City. “Thirty years ago. They were so small. They carried them in burlap bags!”
I knew what she was talking about, having spent time last week in the Bronx planting Ginkgoes, and having held my hand against the wet burlap before the heavy root ball was set in the earth.
Today’s pin oak leaves were still green and red, but they were beginning to droop and to turn a russet brown, just the way I like them.
How we apprehend peak reminds me of when people talk about what age they are internally. You may be forty, but do you feel you are twenty-six in spirit? Sixteen? Three? (I hope not, that would be weird). I always think I am all the birthdays scrambled up. Yes, in actual years I am getting close to retirement age, but I turn on the radio and the music makes me a college student.
When I write I am no age at all. Age-free, that’s like being an angel.
Wild boars love those acorns too, but when they snort and snuffle around the oaks in the forest the fallen nuts are called mast. You don’t need to ask what is peak for a pig.