Back in the Hood

October, a month synonymous with hot apple cider, pumpkin pie, turkey (Thanksgiving), vibrant colors, and fresh, crisp air, is a glorious time to visit the east coast of Canada. Fall is my favourite season for these reasons, and combined with the company of family and close friends, signifies warmth and happiness despite the rapidly cooling temperatures and darkening days.

Waiting to board my seven and a half hour flight from Frankfurt to Halifax, I met a fellow friendly Canadian named Natalie. After a few minutes of conversation, we realized that we are both native Maritimers and even fellow New Brunswickers with common stomping grounds back in the day, hailing from neighboring towns and attending rival high schools. I learned that she had been living in Frankfurt for three years (it’s been just over two years for me), teaching English to bankers and other business professionals. I know very few Canadians in Germany and was happy to share a mutual excitement of visiting home after over a year since my last visit.

After landing in Halifax that evening, my friend Liz intercepted me at the airport (I always love it when a familiar smiling face is waiting for me when I round the corner into the arrivals area). We drove towards the city centre (with Natalie in tow for a drop-off), delightfully squealing over Sobeys, Tim Hortons, and other common sights for sore Canadian eyes.

On the drive to New Brunswick the next morning, taking in the scenery along the highway, I really started to feel the essence of being home. The beautiful foliage at this time of year never gets old for me, and the chemistry behind the color changes is actually pretty cool to a rogue chemist like me and hopefully to you, too, because caution: chemistry rant ahead.

Why Trees Get an Extreme Makeover in the Fall

The reason for this annual transformation has to do with a compound (pigment) called chlorophyll, which is responsible for the green colour of plant leaves.

In the presence of sunlight, chlorophyll acts as a catalyst to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose via the life-sustaining process of photosynthesis. As the temperature drops and the number of daylight hours diminishes, chlorophyll is produced in lower amounts and also begins to decompose.

The decomposition of chlorophyll (the porphyrin ring in particular, for chemistry buffs) causes the green color to fade, and other pigments present in leaves—carotenoids and flavonoids—emerge. These two pigments mainly give rise to yellow leaves, but an abundance of carotenoids can also make leaves appear orange (think carrots).

Red leaves (my personal favourite) are attributed to an abundance of a third pigment class called anthocyanins. These flavonoids are produced as a result of high concentrations of stored glucose in leaves, which occurs as chlorophyll production slows.

Depending on the distribution and concentration of these three pigments, leaves can display unique, hybrid combinations of colours, like in these cases I came across while walking the trails in my sister’s neighbourhood:

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I heart pink maple trees.

Interestingly, overcast and rainy days in the fall mainly generate dull yellow and brown shades, while sunny fall days lead to the more vivid colors. This would explain the lack of vibrant leaves in St. John’s (post yet to come), which is gloomy for most of the year.

Source for chemistry explanation: Compound Interest

Fredericton

Fredericton (affectionately known as “Freddy,” “Freddytown,” or “Freddy Beach” to locals), is the capital of my home province of New Brunswick and where I studied and lived as a university student way back when. Now home to my sister and her family, this was my destination for Thanksgiving and the following week.

My real ‘hood and birthplace is actually Saint John (or rather a suburb of Saint John called Rothesay), a port city about an hour away from Fredericton, but in all honesty, I’m not particularly fond of my birth city (sorry for the hate-on, Saint John). Fredericton appeals to me much more for a handful of reasons.

With a population hovering around 60,000, Fredericton is relatively small. It has always felt more like a town than a city to me, yet is culturally diverse, youthful, and lively, which I’d say is mainly attributed to its student population. Centered around academia and government, the city is community-minded, well-organized, and pedestrian-friendly, having plenty of walking and biking trails on which to roam. The downtown area is scenic and faces the waterfront (the Saint John River).

The pedestrian bridge (an old train bridge) linking downtown Fredericton to the northside

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View from the northside looking south

The craft beer scene here is thriving on account of the many microbreweries scattered around the city (Picaroons, Graystone Brewing, and Grimross Brewing, to name a few). I visited the first two with my brother-in-law and noticed the dominant presence of lumbersexuals (think hipster-meets-lumberjack) in these joints, as one would expect.

The Picaroons Roundhouse on the northside

Autumn is an especially great time to be in the city, not only for the colorful backdrop but the bustling farmers markets and the renowned international music festival, Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, which takes place every September. I just missed the music festival, sadly, but made sure to hit the market (twice for good measure).

The Boyce Farmers Market 

Whether you’re a hungover university student in search of samosas (or poutine) and freshly squeezed orange juice, an early riser keen to beat the lineup for breakfast at Huskin’s (for scrambled eggs and hash browns) or one of the foods trucks lined up outside, or an elderly folk who prefers to people-watch from the comfort of a wooden bench indoors with a morning coffee from Special Blend Coffee Company (the Victoria’s Secret blend is my favourite), the Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market is the undisputed thing to do on Saturday mornings.

Poutine, eh?

Naturally, like a kid excited for Christmas, I was up at the crack of dawn and set out into the frigid morning air to walk to the market (around 4 km).

I’ve been to my fair share of markets in different countries by now, and this one remains my absolute favourite—not only because it’s an icon of home but it’s considered one of the best farmers markets in Canada. The market is thriving all year, but nothing compares to the atmosphere in the fall—it’s a cornucopia of colorful fresh produce, hot spiced apple cider, and even German bread and wurst.

In fact, it embodies so much Canadian hygge I basically morph into the overexcited emoji with the giant heart eyes whenever I revisit this place.

Fan favourites include the samosa stalls (as mentioned above, and always the longest line at the market as the morning progresses); the freshly squeezed orange juice and strawberry-banana smoothie stands; The Cheese Market, well-equipped with fresh samples served with crackers; Gagetown Fruit Farm for the delicious bread, soups, apple cider, pies, and other baked goods; and Tinsel the Clown for balloon animals (I saw him drinking coffee once, so based on my logic he is human and not an evil creature luring innocent kids into storm drains—in analogy to Stephen King’s It, if you’re utterly confused).

Although several Saturday markets have popped up around town that are more than worthy of checking out (the Northside Market, which is similar in its offerings to the Boyce Market, but nevertheless has a different variety of goods; and the Cultural Market for delicious ethnic food).

True to my talkative nature, I struck up conversations with different vendors (or vice versa, because Canadians). Coincidentally, each of them was linked to Germany in some way, including Lavera, a lovely, interesting artist of Lithuanian heritage selling colorful fimo jewelry (who was actually born in Germany, before promptly settling in Canada).

I also spoke with an artist who produced wood carvings and clocks, and who had lived in southern Germany with his wife for four years. He reminisced with me about cuckoo clocks, his favourite travel destinations in and around Germany, and German food he loved (Eisbein = pig’s feet) for a good while.

On my way out with a backpack full of miscellaneous market swag a few hours later, I ran into a dude wearing a Germany cap bumming change in front of the entrance sign. I taught him how to say “tschüss” and gave him a toonie (a two-dollar coin for those unfamiliar with Canadian currency slang).

What else did I get up to in Freddytown?   

I posed with a giant, diabolical-looking potato.

I also went on a pumpkin binge: pumpkin waffles, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin soup, pumpkin beer (but I draw the line at pumpkin spice latte).

Oh, and I fed veggie scraps to this cute alpaca at at The Country Pumpkin (with my nephew, so it was legit), which had a petting zoo: