A Way With Words

October 07, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

I wasn't especially fond of autumn as a kid. Though I liked school, it was bittersweet when the glorious summer vacation came to an end.

Before long there would be mountains of leaves to rake - which, by the way, weren't all that colorful. The stately oak trees which were predominant where I grew up were most certainly not exhibitionists, preferring to approach foliage season in a quiet and dignified fashion. Their canopy transformed into deep rusty shades with strong brown undertones.

Autumn and I had a further falling out when I grew older. Now the season made me melancholy: a reminder of time's relentless march. Rather than a Grand Finale it seemed to be more of a Sorrowful Goodbye. And still there was the raking... Colorful CarpetColorful CarpetAt the height of foliage season in New England, the ground below is often as beautiful and colorful as the trees above. (Dover, New Hampshire)

Then something interesting happened. After a few years living on the west coast I ended up in New Hampshire. I became serious about photography. And I learned to love autumn.

Actually, I wonder if it's possible to live in the Granite State and not love the season. There is nothing "quiet" about it; the deciduous trees in autumn are flamboyant, conspicuous attention-seekers. Especially the ones that turn red.

For the record, I still dislike raking leaves. Adjacent to the woods, my yard in New England was filled with exponentially more of them than I'd ever had to clean up anywhere I'd called home prior to that. It would take three backbreaking rakings over the course of a week or two to remove it all. Still, it seemed a reasonable price to pay for a front seat to the Greatest Show on Earth.

I loved looking at that show and capturing it with my camera. I eagerly anticipated its arrival each year.

This is still true today.

Poet, writer, and literary editor Donald Hall (also the 14th Poet Laureate of the United States) knew a thing or two about New Hampshire. As a youth he went to Phillips Exeter Academy, located just a few miles from the small town where I ended up. Later, he and his wife (poet Jane Kenyon) came back Rocky Gorge White Mountains New HampshireRed in the RocksThe first rays of morning sunlight set the autumn foliage ablaze along the banks of the Swift River at Rocky Gorge. (White Mountains, New Hampshire) for good - moving into the rural home in which his grandparents once lived. He remained there for more than 40 years until his death in 2018.

Some years ago I purchased a wonderful book he wrote about that place, called Seasons at Eagle Pond (Houghton Mifflin, 1987). It artfully captures the nature of New Hampshire, depicting life on his land and around the town of Wilmot in each of the four seasons. The inevitable ice storms. Mud season. Spring's relentless black flies. The crying of loons. Summer hikes through dense woods. The riot of color each October. Sometimes wry, often witty, always beautifully authentic: if you've never been to that part of the world his vivid prose will transport you there.  

Because Hall opens with winter, Fall is the final chapter - as it should be. Anyone who has seen autumn in New Hampshire knows it's the culmination of the year. The high water mark. The pièce de résistance. 

The following passages excerpted from that last chapter eloquently express the annual spectacle and will give you a sense of this gifted writer's way with words. 

Each morning is more outrageous than the one before, days outdoing their predecessors as sons outdo their fathers. We walk out over the chill dew to audit glorious wreckage from the night's cold passage - new branches suddenly turned, others gone deeper into ranges of fire, trees vying to surpass each other and their yesterselves.

He compares the superlative "show" to what you'll find elsewhere:

Deep Autumn is a beautiful Godzilla, wildest of wild beasts. Abrupt shreds and edges of New Hampshire turn fauve, while most of the northern hemisphere remains vague, impressionist, and pretty

And finally this....about how it never, ever gets old:

And you looked around you in the October woods at the extended private exhibition, low pale Autumn sunlight striking through the diminishing leafy air to catch on reds and yellows of the great woods. After hauling rocks it was good to catch your breath; it was good to look, and look, and look. And everyone looked and still looks. Even people who have lived their whole lives here never become bored with this looking...

Beautiful, sublime New Hampshire - at its most beguiling in autumn.

If you can find a copy of Seasons at Eagle Pond, I highly recommend it.

Mist and Fog Over the PemigewassetMarriage of Mist and FogPersistent drizzle and rain made the autumn colors pop and created this moody scene over the Pemigewasset River (Near Lincoln, New Hampshire)


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