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Something About Red

Red oak leaves. Photos courtesy of David Fried.

David Fried

There is something about red. The color. You don’t see it out in nature much in winter or spring. Sometimes you may catch a glimpse of the red berries of highbush cranberry or winterberry or the stems of red osier dogwood, glowing against the pearl white snow.

As summer comes, it is everywhere! Strawberries, rhubarb, tart cherries, roses, Red Sox.

Hummingbirds are very attracted to red. This is why we sometimes have to help them out of our farm office where one will fly in. We have red trim around our doors and windows. Plant breeders have worked to perfect the velvety red rose (even though they gave up aroma for more dark red). There is even a new one so red it is almost blue, called “navy lady.”

Everyone talks about the foliage. How red it is. A good foliage season really means “a lot of red.” Sometimes people ask if we have red maples at our nursery. A true red maple “acer rubra” has green leaves in summer that usually turn orange or red in fall. Their buds are round and red in spring. Often though, they are actually looking for a maple with red leaves in summer. This is a type of Norway maple. It is not native in Vermont and not as hardy and does not have very attractive fall color.

The red oak, however, has a red color that glows. When the light shines through, the world is magical again! The other day I noticed one red oak leaf standing up glowing amongst others. Nearby, red apples carpeted the soft wet grass. There is a lot of red in the air around us in October!

Crabapples

Some are challenged by the red. A bull fighter in Spain uses a red cape to get the bull so angry it charges at him, and he looks macho. My friend, Rick Winston, recently wrote a book called Red Scare in the Green Mountains. It is about Vermont in the late 40s and 50s, showing how a lot of people here were concerned that communism would take hold here if they did not do something to stop it. A UVM professor was fired for not naming others, and a congressman was not re-elected due to being accused of being “Red.” At Woodstock in neighboring New York State, Country Joe and the Fish made famous the Phil Ochs song “draft dodger rag”. It has the line “and when it came my time to serve, I knew better dead than red.” This song helped a community form where others who did not believe in war could find comrades.

I have a friend who grew up across the street from me who is a very good organic vegetable farmer (and skier) in East Hardwick. He has a red beard and red hair, and I told my children his name was “Uncle Red.” Each fall I go to his barn and he loads me up with red cabbage and red beets and red potatoes.

Now that the days are colder, we can still sit by the red coals of a wood fire as those trees with the red leaves are now warming our feet. Once in a while, we may even catch a red sunset. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning!” Uncle Red is also pretty good at predicting the weather.

David Fried, a writer and grower of interesting trees at Elmore Roots Nursery for nearly 40 years.

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