Between the Lines, Gregory Dennis:
It was the first week of August when everyone started talking about the end of summer. As if talking about it, a full month ahead of Labor Day, would somehow prevent the coming of fall.
August brought not the hot weather of most 21st century summers, but more cool and wet. It took a bit of gumption to dive into the lake, or to clamber over the rocks into a mountain stream.
And now autumn is upon us.
Driving up through Ripton yesterday — past yet another road project to repair a washout — the leaves were turning right up the road from the bridge over the Middlebury Gorge. The hills above Breadloaf are already painted with new color. Frost country, literal and poetic.
The Snow Bowl is months away from opening. But at the top of the gap looking up at the Ross, you can see that the scrub of the trail cuts has donned the shrouds of autumn. Muted mango and raspberry colors have replaced the lemony greens of spring and summer’s verdant hush.
As I was leaving the college field house after basketball before my drive over the gap, I encountered a college first-year who appeared to be from out of state and was just finding her way around.
We were walking together for a moment so I introduced myself and asked her name. “Bethel,” she replied.
“Welcome to Vermont,” I said. And thinking of my coming drive, I added, “We also have a town in Vermont called Bethel.”
I hate to leave our lovely local landscape for even a minute in September. But the afternoon of Sept. 11 called me over two mountain ridges — through Ripton to Rochester and then over Bethel Mountain Road.
My friend Norm reminds me that from the east side, it’s called Camp Brook Road. He says that up above the dirt roads that lace the hills on that side, backcountry skiers have spent countless hours cutting trails. I’m sure those skiers are anticipating winter and the powder stashes they’ll reap as the bounty of their woods work.
But the rest of us have a more ambivalent attitude toward the fall. Greg Brown put it like this in his song “Pretty One More Time”:
It’s getting dark so early
I walked all afternoon
What I see so clearly
Will be gone so soon
I’ll write you a letter,
I know you’ll feel the fall
Things may not get better
But we can always stall
In those lost years when I was living away, I would often vacation in Vermont this time of year. I loved the tinges of orange on the maples, the nip of morning air turning to Indian summer warmth, the cool evening fog.
Now that I’m back living here, these reminders of the changing season seem bittersweet. Still sweet, it’s true, but with the slightest bite of the cold to come.
On a morning ramble this week, Zola the Dog and I wandered up the hill behind C.’s daughter’s house in Waitsfield, where we’d spent the night babysitting her older granddaughter.
Near the house of an absent neighbor, I picked a pear from their nicely tended tree and tossed it to Zola. She sniffed it and walked on, uninterested.
Yet she loves the wild pears she digs out of the woods at my house. I guess that like the rest of the family, she has a taste for the untended.
It’s undeniably autumn on the Waitsfield side of the mountain. Cold in the mornings, not just cool. The goldenrod that has tormented us hay fever sufferers is still going strong. But you can see the flowers starting to fade.
The bushes and trees above the Mad River are laced with spider webs. Little napkins that the fairies left, Thoreau called them.
On my walk with Zola I noticed that one spider, apparently unclear on the concept, had spent the night attaching a single strand between two tree limbs that were 15 feet apart.
Nature loves creativity but doesn’t always reward it. That spider will go hungry, while the ones that strung the traditional lace patterns will feast on bugs all day.
Higher up on the hill above the Waitsfield house, you can see a glimpse of the trails at Sugarbush — another reminder of winter, and a promise that with the cold will come a new kind of fun.
There’s a new baby in my extended family, the second child of C.’s daughter and son-in-law. She had arrived into the breath of life the day before, and I had come over the mountain to get a first glimpse.
C. and I watched over her big sister, while the new baby and her parents spent the night at the birthing center in Randolph.
Another Sept. 11 has come and gone. This morning we’ve seen the big sister off to preschool and straightened up the house. The text that just arrived on C.’s cellphone says the new baby will be coming home soon.
A bright fall day will greet her.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis.
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