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In most parts of the state, prime leaf-peeping weather is just around the corner



In most parts of the state, prime leaf-peeping weather is just around the corner

It’s leaf-peeping season in New England, one of the most popular times of year, just after the waning days of summer and before the bitter chill of winter.

Some of the best leaf-peeping spots range from the Appalachian Trail in Western Massachusetts to John Paul Park in Dorchester, according to the state Office of Travel and Tourism.

“There’s no need to leave the city to see breathtaking fall foliage,” said Ryan Woods, Commissioner of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. “We put together a list of great neighborhood spots for leaf peeping at Viewing the changing leaves offers a pandemic-safe, outdoor activity for Bostonians and visitors alike.”

To understand why leaves change color or wither and die, you really have to begin in the spring and summer, when leaves are green because a food-making process is taking place within leaf cells containing the pigment chlorophyll, said William Babcock, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

The chlorophyll absorbs energy from sunlight and uses it to transform carbon dioxide and water into sugars, starch and other carbohydrates.

But in the autumn, the cooler temperatures and the decrease in the duration and intensity of sunlight cause the leaves to stop their food-making process, according to the NWS. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow, orange or other pigments already in the leaf become visible.

Warm, sunny days and cool — but not freezing — nights bring out the most brilliant colors, whereas a few hard frosts can cause leaves to wither and fall without changing color, the weather service said.

The degree of color can also vary from tree to tree. Leaves directly exposed to the sun can turn red, while those on the shady side can be yellow, the NWS said. Leaves tend to have less color when the autumn is mostly cloudy and rainy.

Either way, fall foliage period is a busy time for tourism in Massachusetts.

In 2019, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the state hosted nearly 3.6 million domestic and international visitors during the six weeks from mid-September through October, according to the Office of Travel and Tourism.

That figure represents about 14% of the total visitors for the year.

And those visitors spent just over $3.2 billion and generated just under $200 million in state and local taxes for Massachusetts.

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Mastrodonato: Mac Jones wasn’t the problem for the Patriots, but he’ll need to do more in 2022



Mastrodonato: Mac Jones wasn’t the problem for the Patriots, but he’ll need to do more in 2022

Maybe if Nelson Agholor was able to beat Micah Hyde and Mac Jones’ pass wasn’t intercepted on the Patriots’ first drive on Saturday night, we might be talking about the quarterback differently.

But probably not.

Because on the next drive, the Patriots didn’t even let Jones throw the ball. They went three and out with three straight run plays.

By the time Jones got to throw another pass after the interception, the Pats were down 20-0 and it was no longer OK to keep the ball on the ground. The game was now on his shoulders.

Obviously, that’s exactly the spot the Patriots were hoping to avoid as they ended up getting routed in a 47-17 defeat that will be difficult to shake off.

And as the season came to an abrupt end, we’re still wondering if Jones is going to be the quarterback who gets the Patriots back to the top of the AFC, or if he’s just an average thrower who will never be able to compete with the other high-powered offenses in the league.

While Jones wasn’t making much of an impact for the Pats’ sluggish offense, Josh Allen was showing off as he exploded for five passing touchdowns and an almost-perfect quarterback rating of 157.6.

Obviously, Jones is far from Allen’s caliber. And while we saw plenty of poise and development from the Alabama product in his rookie year with the Patriots, questions remain about his decision-making, arm strength and ability to lead a team from behind.

A lot will depend on the weapons Bill Belichick can provide him with, because it was again clear on Saturday that there aren’t many.

Kendrick Bourne (seven catches, 77 yards and two touchdowns) looks like the real deal and a bargain signing for three years and just $15 million. Hunter Henry (one catch, 30 yards) has been a reliable red zone target. But there wasn’t another player on offense who looked threatening.

On 1st and 10 from the 50 on the Pats’ first possession, Jones found Brandon Bolden wide open about 30 yards downfield and hit him in the chest, but Bolden dropped it. The next play, Jakobi Myers corralled a tip ball into his hands, but he dropped that one too.

When there were key yards to pick up, it was unclear who Jones could rely on.

On 3rd and long after two straight drops, Jones had to pick up 16 yards on his feet with a scramble that included several jukes and revealed a mobile style of play we have rarely seen from Jones this year.

But the next play, when Agholor beat his man and broke free down the left sideline, Jones didn’t put enough juice on a rainbow pass towards the pylon. And while Agholor saw the ball the entire way, Hyde cut the route and made a ridiculous grab before he crashed into the end zone with an interception.

A more aggressive receiver might’ve noticed it was underthrown and leaped up to make a play. The Pats probably haven’t had a receiver who could do that since Rob Gronkowski.

Regardless, it looked like Jones was decisive and in-command on that opening drive. The Bills wanted to pressure him early and sent six rushers on the Pats’ first passing play, but Jones hung in the pocket and timed a curl route perfectly to Bourne for a big gain. Twice he escaped the pocket to extend the play and create a 30-yard pass to Henry and a 16-yard run for himself. The pass to Agholor wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad, either.

And yet still, the Pats called three run plays on the next drive and never gave Jones a chance. Not soon will we forget the three passes they let him throw in Buffalo earlier this season.

How long will it take for the Pats to trust their quarterback? The offense still looks like it’s built for Tom Brady, but Jones doesn’t have the accuracy, strength or awareness to pick apart quality defenses.

He got better than he was early in the year, though. And while he’s still not much better than an average quarterback in the NFL, teams can win with average quarterbacks.

The Patriots didn’t. After the way they faded down the stretch during the regular season and got smoked in Buffalo to wrap things up, it’s hard to feel good about this team.

The Pats don’t have an offense that can run toe to toe with the Bills, Chiefs and Bengals.

Jones didn’t play poorly, but if you lose by 30 points and the quarterback isn’t the problem, that’s a problem in itself.

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Patriots QB Mac Jones and teammates express hope for 2022 season



Patriots react to season-ending Wild Card blowout at Buffalo: ‘Embarrassing’

While the Patriots suffered one of their worst playoff defeats during Bill Belichick’s time in Foxboro, the players remained hopeful for better things to come next season.

Following the 47-17 thrashing by the Bills Saturday night in Buffalo, the Patriots licked their wounds, but did their best to provide a positive spin for 2022.

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones, for one, struck an optimistic chord about the future.

“There’s a lot to look forward to and be positive about and learn from,” said Jones. “There’s nothing to hang our heads on . . . there’s nothing to feel sorry about. It’s just a learning experience to get better for next year.”

Jones started just fine in his first playoff game, and during the Patriots opening drive had the offense moving toward a score when Micah Hyde made a great play to step in front of Nelson Agholor to pick off a ball right before hitting the end zone.

Jones finished with two picks, but also threw a pair of touchdown passes. He believes he can only get better.

“For me, obviously, I was a rookie. I played like that sometimes, and I shouldn’t have. I can play better,” he said. “That’s my goal this offseason, is just to advance and bring the guys along with me. Because we have great players, all around me. I know we have a lot of progress to make, and I’ll just feel more comfortable with anything you do a second time around.”

Captain Matthew Slater, while admitting the Bills “thoroughly and soundly outplayed” the Patriots, was proud of how the team played during the year, along with the strides it made from a non-playoff year last year.

Slater, who just completed his 14th season with the team, didn’t want to speculate on his future, but thought the Patriots were in good hands going forward, especially with Jones at the helm.

“I think the future is bright for this organization with that young man,” said Slater. “Not just his play on the field, but the man that he is, the character that he possesses. He’s the type of man you hope to build around.

“I know my kids and I will be watching him for a long time to come. I’m excited about where this organization is going to be in the future with him. It’s certainly been an honor for me to play alongside him, and see him grow over the course of the year. But Patriots Nation, they should be excited about having No. 10 as their quarterback.”

Slater also said it’s important to have perspective. What the team accomplished the past two decades, winning six championships, was the exception to how things go in the NFL. The reality of the league doesn’t lend itself to having that kind of sustained success.

Defensive captain Devin McCourty, whose future is also uncertain, also thought the Pats, who finished 10-7 during the regular season, took a step in the right direction.

“We made strides this year coming off last year, did some things well during the season, it just didn’t finish the way we needed to finish,” he said. “That’s how the NFL is. The teams that are playing good ball at the end, find ways to win, and usually keep it going. We just didn’t do that.

“We’ll have a lot of time to think and see why it didn’t go the way we wanted it to after the bye week. We’ll have to process that all offseason.”

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Stillwater readies for international snow-sculpture competition



Stillwater readies for international snow-sculpture competition

City crews generally truck snow out of downtown Stillwater during the winter months.

Not this year.

Stillwater Public Works trucks traveled to Afton Alps in southern Washington County to bring snow into town this week. The pristine piles of white stuff were added to massive piles of snow created on site by a crew from Green Acres Tubing Park in Lake Elmo.

Welcome to the inaugural World Snow Sculpting Championship, which runs Wednesday through Saturday in Lowell Park.

The event, sanctioned by Finland-based Association Internationale de Sculpture sur Neige et Glase, is expected to bring an estimated 30,000 people to Stillwater.

German snow sculptor Franziska Agrawal created “FOLDED III” in 2019 for the Snowking Winter Festival in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. Agrawal is competing in the January 2022 World Snow Sculpting Championship in downtown Stillwater. (Courtesy of Franziska Agrawal)

“It’s like we’re building a half-pipe in Lowell Park for snowboarding,” Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski said. “It’s a sight to behold. It’s like those big piles of snow in the parking lots that as a kid you always wanted to sled down and play ‘King of the Hill’ on, but this is all beautiful and perfectly white. It’s just magical.”

Three-member snow-sculpting teams from around the world, including Ecuador, Germany, Canada and Turkey, are competing for prize money and the title of “World Champions.” The teams will have 77 hours — from 9 a.m. Wednesday until 2 p.m. Saturday — to carve their sculptures out of 10-by-10-by-10-foot blocks of snow. But they will have only 68 working hours, because there’s a mandatory layoff each day between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

“These things are massive. They’re 10 feet high,” Kozlowski said. “What’s really cool is they are going to be around for a while. It will be really fun to be here while they are doing the work and to be part of the competition, but if people can’t make it to the competition, they can come down on a Tuesday night and walk around these things and check them out. It’s going to be really neat.”

Prizes will be awarded to the top three teams. Spectators can watch the entire process, visit with the teams and vote for their favorite sculpture; the team with the most votes will win “The People’s Choice Award.”

Kozlowski said the event is the perfect pandemic activity.

“We’ve got tons of space, it’s outdoors, and it’s a great, safe event,” he said. “If you’re going to do something in a pandemic, this is kind of the thing to do.”


The key to making snow, according to Rich Springborn, co-owner of Green Acres, is understanding “wet-bulb temperature.” That’s the lowest temperature to which air can be cooled by the evaporation of water into the air at a constant pressure. “Snowmaking does not go off of the air temperature,” he said. “When we start making snow, we go off the wet-bulb temperature, which shows how quick the air will take the heat out of the water when we introduce the water into the air.”

Springborn started making snow for the international competition on Jan. 6 — just to make sure he had enough time and the temperature was right.

“It turned out really good,” he said. “The first night, it got too cold — minus 25 degrees — so we had to shut it down. The sweet spot is between 10 and 15 degrees.”

Springborn, who uses a portable SMI Wizzard Snowmaker machine to make snow, learned the art of snow-making “through trial and error,” he said.

His father, Gaylen Springborn, and late grandfather, Howard Springborn, who started Green Acres Tubing Park in 1972 to diversify the income from the family farm, also passed down their knowledge, he said.

“Machine-made snow lasts almost twice as long as natural snow,” Springborn said. “The snow turns into a better snow if you let it cure for a couple of days. It dries out and all the moisture in it freezes, and you get a drier snow instead of a wet clumpy snow. It packs better in the forms, and then you won’t have a lot of air pockets in the blocks.”

The competition is great for downtown Stillwater, said Springborn, who also is providing snow for the snow sculptures of the St. Paul Winter Carnival at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

In addition to moving the snow that will be loaded into the 10-by-10-by-10-foot forms, Springborn is making a snow slide in Lowell Park.

“The whole event is great for the community,” he said. “It brings all the local businesses together in the winter instead of being cooped up.”


How did Stillwater land an international event like the World Snow Sculpting Championship? Officials from the city and the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce get the credit.

During the fall of 2020, there was a call to action to help local businesses during the first quarter of 2021 because of COVID-19, said Robin Anthony, the chamber’s executive director.

A series of activities in downtown Stillwater, dubbed “Wintertime in Stillwater,” were organized and planned. The events centered on a massive downtown light display, including the lighting of the Stillwater Lift Bridge; an Ice Maze in the parking lot of the Zephyr Theatre; a free walk-through, color-changing LED light display on the Chestnut Street Plaza that is synchronized to music; lights up and down Main Street; and “Fire & Ice,” a hot-air balloon event and ice-cream social.

Map of events in Stillwater for the International snow sculpture competition.
A map of events for Stillwater’s upcoming World Snow Sculpting Championship. (Courtesy Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce)

At the same time, organizers learned about the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship in Lake Geneva, Wis. Chamber executives tried to lure the event to Stillwater, but “they didn’t want to move,” Anthony said.

Instead, Winter Fun LLC, the Milwaukee-based organizers of the national event, pitched a new competition — the World Championship — for Stillwater. “There have been competitions throughout the U.S. and around the world, but there has never been a World Championship,” Anthony said.

Stillwater has signed a contract agreeing to host the event for three years, with the first right of refusal after that for future years, Anthony said.

The global gathering will be celebrated this year with a weeklong festival of events, including an Opening Ceremony, the World’s Coolest Block Party on Jan. 22 and MinneSnowta Nice Day on Jan. 23.

Each team participating in the competition had to show proof that they were a “world-class competitor,” having won either an international or U.S. competition, Anthony said. Each sculptor coming to Stillwater will receive lodging, food and a $500 travel stipend, she said.

Plans called for 12 three-person teams to compete in the event, but a team from Germany and a team from Argentina had to drop out last week because of COVID, Anthony said.

“What’s keeping me up at night now is getting the teams tested to get them back into their countries,” she said. “That’s a whole other level of logistics.”

The other major stressor? “Mother Nature,” she said. “What we don’t need is a heat wave. Right now, the weather forecast looks perfect. We want cold weather and sunshine, and that’s what it looks like we’re going to get.”


“What is very interesting, in the context of my work, is the ephemerality and the context of time and of how to perceive time in an object or in an artwork,” said Franziska Agrawal, a snow sculptor from Munich, Germany, who will be arriving in Stillwater on Tuesday.

Franziska Agrawal, an industrial designer and artist from Munich, German, is competing in the January 2022 World Snow Sculpting Championship in downtown Stillwater. Agrawal specializes in
Franziska Agrawal of Germany is competing in the January 2022 World Snow Sculpting Championship in Stillwater. Agrawal specializes in “site-specific architectural installations with natural and ephemeral materials.” In 2019, she created “FOLDED III” during the Snowking Winter Festival in Canada. (Courtesy of Franziska Agrawal)

Agrawal, an industrial designer and artist, specializes in site-specific architectural installations with natural and ephemeral materials. Many of her snow sculptures are geometric shapes; the title of her Stillwater piece is “PRISMA VI.”

Agrawal said she doesn’t mind sculpting in a material that won’t last.

“What actually gives the value of a piece of art?” she said during a Zoom call from Germany last week. “Does it depend on its longevity? On the length of its lifetime? And then what is the length of a lifetime? Who determines that? Our human lifespan? Or is it in terms of the universe? Or in terms of an animal that lives just two years?

“You can experience an art piece with the experience you have when you look at it,” she said. “Because if you go to a museum, you would also maybe spend just five minutes with it, but you would have a lasting impression and you would have an experience which you would probably take in your memory.”

Agrawal documents her sculptures through photography and tries to record each piece at its “moment of perfection,” she said. “From that moment, that is what I keep. For me, the whole process of creation and destruction is part of nature. This is the life cycle.”

Agrawal often enlists locals to take photos of her snow sculptures as they melt.

Agrawal, a “recurring artist” at the famed Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, is competing in a snow-sculpting contest in the Dolomites in Italy this weekend. After she leaves Stillwater, she will compete in contests in Breckenridge, Colo., and Ely, Minn., she said.

After two decades of competitive snow sculpting, Agrawal has learned some important lessons: Bring plenty of warm clothes and a level.

“I have one suitcase that I always bring with me, and one compartment is filled with tools, and the other compartment is clothes,” she said. “I bring Sharpies to draw on the snow because I do these geometric straight lines. I have Chinese laser-cut tools to remove snow — they’re really sharp.”

Each team is given scaffolding, a ladder, a shovel and a hand tamper. They are allowed to bring their own carving tools, but no power tools are allowed.

Agrawal said the coldest temperature she’s ever worked in was minus 47 degrees in Kiruna, Sweden.

The best temperature to work in snow and ice is around 15 to 20 degrees, according to Agrawal. “If it’s colder, then the material also gets very hard or the crystals get very, very brittle or very, very hard to work with. Also, of course, if you stop moving your body, then you freeze maybe within a couple of minutes.”

It’s good to have the option of working at night in case the temperatures are too warm during the day, but Agrawal said she tries to keep late-night hours to a minimum.

“Usually, I’ve learned over these many years to calculate the workload over the hours,” she said. “I have a good feeling for how long things take. I consider the relaxing and the sleeping to be very important.”


Stillwater’s new international event, the World Snow Sculpting Championship, starts Tuesday and runs through Jan. 23. The competition takes place in Lowell Park along the St. Croix River. All events are free and open to the public. There will be a sliding hill, ice sculptures, food trucks, an ice skating rink, a warming tent with cocoa and coffee, a beer tent and music. For a complete schedule, visit Highlights include:

Tuesday, Jan. 18

  • 9 a.m., Exhibition by Jon Baller, local snow sculptor

Wednesday, Jan. 19

  • 9 a.m., Snow sculpting begins
  • 5 p.m., Opening Ceremony, JX Event Center

Thursday, Jan. 20

Friday, Jan. 21

Saturday, Jan. 22

  • 2 p.m., Snow sculpting competition ends
  • 4 p.m., Closing Ceremony, where teams receive awards
  • 6-9 p.m. World’s Coolest Block Party, including a DJ and fire performers

Sunday, Jan. 23

  • 9 a.m.-5 p.m., MinneSnowta Nice Day, including polka dancing, bingo and wild-rice cook-off
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