Pay attention and you may discover each place possesses its own unique spirit, a particular set of vibrations that could be embodied as a local deity, as they are throughout the Hindu world, or devas or angels or a sense of tribal identity or the impact of an ecosystem or watershed or some defined overlap of commerce and culture – sometimes to a life-giving communion, sometimes to a tyrannical oppression, depending. Yet against all of its distinguishing character we must confess New England holds no monopoly on rainbow foliage. Each October this outburst of shimmering tinted rhinestone occurs on deciduous trees across much of the Northern Hemisphere, marking an experience both local and universal, a detailed bend in an extended stream in a band not just across the continent but likely around the globe. What I know of it is particularly American.
Where I grew up, the morning newspaper would assign two of its writers each year to head for the hills of southeast Ohio for an autumn trek, and then presented their reports side-by-side – one from the outdoors columnist’s point of view, the other from the fine arts. To the west, I’ve lived through autumn in the cave-riddled hardwood backcountry of southern Indiana and along the Upper Mississippi, with its panoramas of the bluffs along the river; further west, golden aspens fluttered in the breeze along the Yakima River in the interior desert of the Pacific Northwest and the two-thousand-foot-long veins of scarlet maples snaked down through evergreen slopes of the Cascade Range. To the east, there were two years in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, or a week in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in what the locals kept describing as the most spectacular outbreak in memory. Still, nothing has surpassed my memories of that first autumn after college, when I was free each afternoon to explore the mountainsides along the border of New York and Pennsylvania, where species of northern forests mingle with those of the south.
All of them could stop your breath.