It is September in the year of the pandemic. A summer of drought followed by torrential rains and high winds brought what seemed to be a sudden and cruel end to the fall foliage. Our majestic sugar maple dropped its golden leaves all at once, dumping them in a thick coat on the driveway. It left a mess for us to rake up to ready the entryway for my brother’s visit in the final weekend of the month. Our carefully planned socially distanced family time which was to feature outdoor leaf-peeping activities had been dealt a fatal blow. Fall was finished.
But it wasn’t. Two weeks later, the season was reborn.
I am in my kayak at 8:00AM on Sand Pond in Marlow, New Hampshire. I quietly propel my way through the early morning mist. The calm of the scene soothes my soul. I cannot see the opposite bank through the haze so I stay close to my friends as we make our way along the shore. We talk in hushed tones as if loud voices would dissipate the intimacy of the fog. I slice through the water barely making a wave and glide by the loon taking its morning bath. When we finish rounding the pond, we change our footwear and climb the adjacent Silver Mountain for an aerial view of our morning paddle. The hard woods are lit by the noontime sun, flooding the hillside in colors we thought had exited the landscape this year.
I emerge from the woods and look up. I can see the rocky summit of Mount Cardigan and know that my climb is almost completed. My husband is up ahead with the fast hikers. I make my way a bit more slowly with the others. The air has warmed so that hiking in shorts is still possible, even as October advances inexorably toward the true end of fall – the end of daylight savings. The cloudless blue sky tops the three hundred sixty degree view from the peak – a blinding panorama of red, yellow and orange which has miraculously been resurrected.
We’re making our way along the Sugar River Rail Trail. I’m on my new e-bike which is not needed for the mostly flat route, but whose wide tires and sturdy shocks make gliding along the irregular path as smooth as a newly paved road. We are more than midway through the month and while I have some fall-weight clothing on, I’ve already peeled a layer off. The sun glints on the river to our right as we pedal along. We pass over old covered bridges along the way from Claremont to Newport. I stop at a bend in the river to take a photograph. The red of an oak is translucent as I snap the river through the leaves. Where did these colors come from? I thought fall was dead. But it is more alive today than if it hadn’t died at all.
We’re climbing up Smith Hill in back of our house. Members of our trusty Cornish “hiking bubble” are with us. Most of the way up and back down is well-tended trail but we have to do some bushwhacking in a few spots. After a few days of rain which have mercifully replenished the level of our well water, the sun lights our way along the path cushioned by layers of fallen leaves. And still, there is plenty of color to savor. Mount Ascutney is visible from the top as we make our way along the ridge. Down one steep side, then back up and down again to reach the house. At the end, we share beer, apple cider, and relaxed talk on our porch. In this moment of great national stress and personal angst, we take comfort in a moment of normal in the midst of the surreal – on this one fine day.