'October Glory' red maples. Photo: Steve Bender

When you go 70-plus days without rain, you have cause to expect the worst. "Fall color is going to [a verb that means greatly disappoint] this year!" I wailed. "All the leaves are gonna turn brown." But once again, Mother Nature had other plans -- one of many reasons I resent that tired, old biddy.

By now, you've probably read articles online and in what used to be called "newspapers" about the conditions necessary for great fall color. Sunny summers with plenty of rain. Sunny autumns with moderate rain. Shortening autumn days. Cool autumn weather. Acid soil. The moon in the Seventh House. Well, after chasing fall color for 33 years at Southern Living, I'm here to tell you that the experts are no better than a box turtle at predicting when and where fall color will occur and how intense it will be.

Ugly, parched dogwood. Photo by Steve Bender

Take a gander at the dogwood in our neighbor's yard this week. Dogwoods are supposed to be one of the first trees to turn in fall, but this one waited until mid-November. It isn't any special kind chosen for fall foliage either. He dug it out of the woods.

One thing I can say with certainty is that because of global warming, fall color is happening later. See those 'October Glory' read maples up top (one of the best trees for reliable scarlet fall foliage)? It didn't peak until November 20 here in north-central Alabama. We should rename it 'November Glory.'

Other trees have pleasantly surprised. Incandescent orange sugar maples. Burnished gold hickories. Blood-red black gums. Bright yellow tulip poplars. Russet-yellow willow oaks.

emCoral-bark maples at Grumpy's. Photo: Steve Bender/em

I have two observations to impart here. First, anyone who think they have a handle on fall color is a certified cretin. Second, no matter how bleak the autumn outlook, never give up hope. Sometimes hope's a thing with feathers. Other times, it has leaves.