The weather is turning cooler, the afternoons are getting darker, and I suddenly find myself craving flavored lattes – those embarrassingly delicious abominations from Starbucks layered with whipped cream and nutmeg. No other time of year would I think about pumpkin or gingerbread-flavored coffee as a must-have or even a must-maybe. It’s October in New England and I’m in a full-blown fall mania with predictably gratuitous images of manicured leaf piles exploding with color, Golden Retrievers chasing waterfowl through landscaped marshes, overflowing baskets of Botero shaped pumpkins, apples, and gourds, and all of them covered in Scotch Plaid flannel.
It goes without saying that I am a prime candidate for an L.L. Bean-inspired seasonal Bipolar disorder. I had the same weather-induced hallucinations throughout my four Northern Colorado summers. I imagined clambakes and bonfires on white sandy beaches with my tanned and casual family. We would sail and swim, and open the shutters on our summer cottage somewhere on the coast of Maine. The kids would collect pails of sand dollars and wear rope bracelets that would have to be hacked off at Christmas. Our Golden Retriever would retrieve.
All of these images became my perfect idea of New England. And all of them were completely devoid of how I actually spent my thirty-four years in New England. Years spent grumbling about how cold and dark it was getting in the fall; winters spent prying frozen contact lenses from my eyeballs; spring spent worrying about the upcoming bathing suit season; and summers spent sweating in the humidity and treating second-degree sunburns in a desperate attempt to look good in white. Don’t get me wrong. I truly love the four seasons of New England, but I had allowed the 2,000 plus miles put between us to distort my memories of them.
Not one to succumb to most marketing (I like to think), I had allowed myself to idealize what I saw in the pages of my beloved L.L. Bean catalogue when it arrived to announce each season – fall, in particular. Looking through those Photoshopped pages of plaid and retriever perfection I forgot what I really enjoyed about New England, and now that I’m here I have no desire to recreate anything I saw in print because it’s all too perfect. What I truly love about fall in Massachusetts is its messy and chaotic charm.
I don’t get a lump in my throat at perfectly sculpted leaf piles or by the magnificent homes of Concord festooned with sugar pumpkins and dried corn. But I do at the light breaking through the trees and onto the narrow and windy roads of the Metro West as the leaves swirl in my wake. I wax nostalgic when I see wet leaves stuck on our house, stuck on our car, and stuck on the muddy kitchen floor – red, orange, yellow and brown bits of crumbling membrane mixed with dog hair.
The pine needles that constantly get jammed under the windshield wipers, leaving a smear at each swish, make me smile in frustration. I love the smell of too long wet and soggy grass and weeds and broken sticks, and I have even grown fond of the rotting pears that pop under my feet when I trip on them and nearly twist my ankle under the ancient pear tree. The cold morning air and the rising mist over the Concord River make me positively teary eyed. I am unabashedly a Yankee and those Madison Avenue cable knit sweater hawkers no longer have a hold over me.
Now I can shift my attention to the coffee peddlers of the Pacific Northwest.