The Feel of Fall

A visual celebration of the beauty of autumn leaves in and around Raleigh.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre | photography by Kate Medley

“I am not a nature photographer, only because I find it incredibly difficult,” says Kate Medley. “To me, there’s nothing that can top the experience of seeing a scene in person.”

Medley typically captures images for newspapers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. But when WALTER asked her to spend a few days walking around the Triangle looking for fall leaves, it was, she says, the perfect antidote to the more serious fare she’d been photographing. “It was such a nice reprieve to go into the community simply to find beauty in it,” she says.

In the Triangle, autumn leaves are in their full spectrum of crimsons, ochres, and umbers by early November. “Some trees, like tulip poplars and black gum, change early,” says naturalist Melissa Dowland, coordinator of teacher education at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “The last ones are oaks and then American beech — their leaves turn a nice light tan and then hang on through winter.”

For this project, Medley worked to find new vantage points for nature’s spectacle: “I try to get a different perspective on a scene you may already be familiar with — to climb up a hill, to step off the trail.” And in doing so, she herself gained perspective. “I was struck by how fortunate we are to live in an urban environment that has so much gorgeous wilderness right within the city,” she says. “Even in a well-used park, there’s still plenty of room for everyone to roam and find their own space.” 

Hiistoric Yates Mill in Raleigh
Squirrels are busy hoarding nuts as they prepare to hunker down for winter. “They have an uncanny ability to find them, but usually miss a few — that’s why squirrels are so good at helping seeds spread,” says Dowland.
Lake Raleigh in Raleigh, NC. Open edges of the woods — like the bank of Lake Johnson here, or the side of the road — are often where you’ll find the brightest colors. “There’s more diversity of species, and some of the more vibrant changers, like maples and sweet gum, prefer the additional light along the edge,” says Dowland.
Historic Yates Mill in Raleigh
Historic Yates Mill in Raleigh.
Fall colors emerge along the Eno River in Ayr Mount, in Hillsborough.
Pullen Park in Raleigh.


This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of WALTER magazine.