John Clark here. I’ve had 70 chances to experience each of our four seasons. Granted, early ones were blurred by infancy and the passage of time, but I can say without hesitation that fall is my favorite. Winter is long, dark and dreary, spring is messy, and summer has gotten hotter as time has passed, not to mention that is seems to speed up the older I get.
Fall has a crispness and definition that sets it apart. When I was a kid, hunting played a big part of the attraction. Creeping along the stone wall stretching to the back of our orchard, 16 gauge double barrel in hand until a partridge flushed, spiking my pulse, was always something to look forward to. So, too, were the treks around the twin beaver bogs and up a woods road the what we still call the Teal Place in hopes of finding ripe fox grapes, their outer sweetness contrasting so sharply with the acid tartness inside, followed by the crunch of seeds as I devoured them by the handful.
Later, when November arrived, so did deer season. Way back before the residents only Saturday opening went into effect, it was an unspoken rule that older boys attending Union High School (and most other rural Maine high schools) took the first day of the season off without penalty. Sometimes when I have trouble falling asleep, I replay the more vivid November encounters I’ve had in the woods. Most involve bucks, but perhaps the most memorable of all came when I was a sophomore or junior and two mountain lions walked across the woods road leading from the back of the orchard to the lower beaver pond. DIFW biologists can dismiss the existence of mountain lions in Maine all they want, but I know what I saw that morning.
Another highlight of fall is the opportunity to discover amazingly tasty apples. It’s easy to forget that there was a time when much of Maine was farmland and apple trees were important to the survival of families. While much of that land was quickly reclaimed by trees and brush, the apple trees remained, beautifully grotesque shapes against sunset skies. There are so many varieties and iterations of varieties to be savored that almost any trek through the woods in fall is likely to offer an opportunity to bite into something that stops your taste buds in their tracks. I often carry a plastic bag in case I find ones that are really good so I can bring enough home to make a small batch of sauce or cider. It helps to be tolerant of a few worms, though. For the truly adept, noting the exact location of treasure trees will allow you to return in the spring so you can get a twig or two for grafting purposes.
Fall is a perfect time for a drive to nowhere, preferably with no timetable. Just grab your camera and DeLorme Atlas. The crispness of a clear fall day lends itself to picking roads that climb up so you can see for miles. The Height of Lands, the road from Bingham to Jackman, Rt. 27 to Coburn Gore, Rt. 11 up through the County and the road from Athens up to the wind towers are all good choices.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of fall is the way you can wake up to frost diamonding your lawn, but be in a t-shirt by late morning. That chill, followed by warmth does something extremely positive to my attitude. On mornings like that, I love to sit in solitude, usually in a field, or by running water. In the field, it’s almost addictive to watch the silky parachutes from ripened milkweed be caught by a soft breeze and follow their ascent until they’re too faint to be seen any more. There’s a corresponding joy in watching leaves flutter down from trees to land in a stream, perching above the mirror-like surface until caught by a current that swings them off to a distant landing. Mornings like these also let you trace the course of waterways as the warmer water creates aerial mist trails replicating the water underneath.
Sounds and smells also add to my enjoyment of fall. Burning leaves and the first tang of wood smoke cement the reality that life has changed once again and the sound from huge chevrons of geese, heading toward Merrymeeting Bay, evoke images from those days 40 years ago when October mornings began at 3:30 in a Randolph parking lot, followed by a day of chasing waterfowl first in the bay and then through a series of ponds and bogs all the way to Appleton.
What seasonal memories stay with you?