Flo and Bert Alert: They're Heeeerre

At the drop of a leaf, big bucks and big Winnebagos land in Vermont

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In a small rumpled corner of New England live an exceptionally clever people who have learned to make big money out of the most common seasonal phenomenon in all of nature.

In every part of this vast land the leaves color up and fall off the trees in the autumn. But those clever people have convinced the rest of the country that leaf fall happens best and most colorfully in Vermont. And so subspecies of flatlanders (people from "away") migrate here in the fall. They are called leaf peepers, and they clog up the back roads and marvel at sights they could have stayed at home to see. One of every five visitors comes here to see the fall foliage.

The other day I was on Vermont Route 100 north of Waterbury, when Flo and Bert pulled out onto the road in front of me. I know who they were because their Ohio Winnebago had their names painted across the back in fancy calligraphy.

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Flo and Bert were there to see the leaves, and from the speed they were going, they saw every single one of 'em.

They are part of a benign annual invasion that will pump almost $500 million into the economy of Vermont this year, as people continue to prove they will go out of their way to see something spectacular.

Leaf season is as rich a visual feast as the eye can capture. And if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, then surely the leaves are redder on the other side of the state line, in Vermont.

Maybe Vermont's advantage is that it's a state of vest-pocket vistas. Robert Goulet sang about how on a clear day you could see forever. You can't do that in Vermont. We have lots of clear days, but you can't see forever because the scenic views keep getting in the way.

I can almost hear Flo and Bert trying to take it all in. "Flo, look at all of those colors!" "Yes, Bert, let's stop at that quaint little shop and buy some more film."

Well, leaf peepers, once you've done that, Vermont's gotcha. You see, this whole leaf thing is a lure, to get Flo and Bert inside one of those quaint little shops, or restaurants, or bed and breakfast inns.

Inside every one of those you'll find flatlander feeding frenzy stuff.

First the maple syrup. Vermonters have got everyone believing that tree juice boiled in the shadow of the Green Mountains is the true nectar of the north, while the same stuff from somewhere else is barely fit for drowning pancakes.

Well, it's true. After you get home, you may notice that the quaint little container of genuine pure fancy grade Vermont maple syrup carries the same price tag that puts it right up there with French perfume on a cost-per-gallon basis.

And don't forget the black and white stuff. Most Vermont cows, the ones that decorate the pastures so flatlanders can take their pictures, are Holsteins. They come in designer colors of black and white, slathered in random patterns across their hides.

And those clever Vermonters have persuaded otherwise sensible flatlanders that anything painted in random patterns of black and white is quaint, cute, and costly. Coffee cup, salt shaker, sugar bowl, milk pitcher, if it can contain anything, if it can just sit on the shelf and trap dust, it's more desirable, and collectible, and valuable, in the scheme of Vermont's favorite cows.

But don't dismiss the lure of the leaf; it's an honest bait.

This small rumpled corner of New England, say the forestry specialists, is one of only two places in the northern hemisphere where combined effects of climate, altitude, and tree species produce such a spectacular fall show. The other autumnal hotspot is in Siberia, but a little less accessible to a Winnebago from Ohio.

In Vermont on a crispy day you can watch the colors flame along a ridge-line, and there's no smoke, and no blackened ruin when the colors fade. You can watch an October wind move a patch of sunshine across a hillside, and see the colors ignite in the light. You can be there as the great golden disks snap their tethers, and go skating giddy down the wind. You can cause 10,000 fallen leaves to rise and dance again in the the wake of your moving car.

You can observe one of nature's most benign wonders. And while you do, Vermont will welcome you, and feed you, and shelter you, and sell you souvenirs. Clever people, those Vermonters.

* Steve Delaney is the former host of Monitor Radio Early Edition. He believes that Flo and Bert, like the leaves of autumn, are best viewed from a distance.

Correction

In an Oct. 27 story on Internet term papers, Page 1, the company 'A1 Termpaper' was incorrectly identified in a caption as a defendant in a Boston University lawsuit. It is not part of the suit. We regret the error.

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