• Podcast for your leaf-peeping?
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     | October 08,2005
     

    There is a new accessory for chasing the foliage this autumn. It's not a stylish pair of hiking boots, though it comes in fashionable colors. Maps aren't involved, though written directions might help. And the best part of all, it's free, like the air in Vermont.

    The publishers of Yankee Magazine and the Old Farmer's Almanac have married one of New England's oldest pastimes ó leaf peeping ó with the newest craze in digital media: podcasting. A podcast, as any teenager can tell you, is an audio recording that can be downloaded to an iPod (or any other MP3 player), and listened to anywhere, anytime. Think of it as a vintage radio show in the age of TiVo.

    Thousands of podcasts are already online, from the morning's news summary from National Public Radio to sex diaries to ramblings by countless geeks with too much time on their hands. There are even dueling audio tours of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. So it seems only natural that "the greatest show in New England," as the Yankee editors put it, gets the podcast treatment.

    "You can sit in your car and listen to your iPod while looking for foliage," said Barbara Hall, the Internet editor of YankeeFoliage.com. "Once a week, we'll tell our listeners where the color is. Foliage is a big deal here in New England."

    The podcasts are just the latest digital twist on the annual leaf frenzy. In the last few years, scores of Web sites have sprung up, loaded with bells and whistles intended to help travelers pinpoint the elusive and mercurial peak with nearly the same attention given to tracking hurricanes. There are blogs recounting foliage trips, interactive maps that morph from green to red based on historical data, even satellite-guided tours that can be downloaded to a GPS-enabled device, so that particularly colorful drives can be retraced. Other sites like LeafPeepers.com amass Web cams that beam real-time images of treetops as they turn color.

    The first foliage podcast on the Yankee site was posted two weeks ago, on the first day of autumn. Even with leaf season running late this year, about 15,000 people as of Thursday had downloaded the seven-minute report, which begins with a crunchy guitar riff from a song titled, "When Fall Comes to New England," followed by a short introduction by Hall. Then the foliage forecast is delivered in a businesslike voice, not unlike the one used in a radio traffic report, except for the wailing fiddle.

    "After a lot of rain earlier this summer, a dry spell and some recent showers, New England's forests are healthy," says Ken Phillips, the magazine's communications manager and podcast narrator, in a tone that suggests Mr. Rogers. "It's early in the season, and green, at least for the moment, remains Mother Nature's favorite hue. Throughout most of the region, particularly southern New England, little color is visible."

    The podcasts, which will be posted every Thursday through October, also feature driving tours narrated by the magazine's travel editors. In a segment titled, "Little Mountains, Big Views," an editor, Katrina A. Yeager, visits five diminutive peaks, including one in Addison, Vt. "Snake Mountain is a favorite with Middlebury students entertaining their parents," she says.

    Other installments include a two-day drive through the Monadnock region in southern New Hampshire, a sky dive over central Massachusetts, and an etiquette guide for green leaf-peepers. "If you're ooh-ing and ah-ing at 5 mph, pull over when someone's behind you," says Mel Allen, another travel editor and self-described savvy leaf watcher. "Ask a landowner permission before tramping into his field."

    For the moment, YankeeFoliage.com seems to have the leaf podcast field to itself; a search on Podcast Alley and iTunes, popular repositories for podcasts, failed to unearth others. But that may not last.

    As Phillips tells his listeners: "Autumn in New England is not just about fall leaves. The scent of wood smoke punctuates the air. The skies are filled with the sounds of the fall migration, and our towns come alive with harvest festivals. This is spectacle for all your senses."

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