At my childhood home in Rancho Palos Verdes autumn came and went in California with only the sycamore tree dropping its leaves on the front yard. I have since moved all over the country: Utah, Wyoming, New York, Alaska, Washington, and Idaho and thankfully have more fully experienced the treasures of fall. Because of that experience I can confidently assert that upstate New York is the capital of autumn.
We lived in the small village of Dryden, New York and enjoyed two spectacular fall seasons. The sticky heat of summer giving way to crisp mornings is the first hint of the season. Pops of fiery color appear in the woods gradually envelope the hills, valleys, and farms. It seems every small village has its own river, stream, or waterfall along with a picturesque white steeple punctuating the blazing skyline. At Cornell University Orchard store we tasted apples – Empire and Cortland varieties which I still crave – and filled our empty gallon jugs with fresh pressed apple cider. On many Sunday drives we traveled country roads lined with produce stands, pumpkin fields, and corn mazes.
Our autumn color drives led us to Windham Mountain overlooking the Hudson River Valley where my husband’s ancestor, Peter, ran an inn back in the 1700’s. This is Sleepy Hollow country. This is where our American version of Halloween comes to life in the bounties of Squire Van Tassel’s harvest party and the terrors of the Headless Horseman. In our New York travels we saw many “Sleepy Hollow’s”: quaint towns festive with cornstalks and scarecrows. We witnessed the crumbling turrets of old mansions and mossy ancient cemeteries sinking into leafy soil. Tipsy pitted stones carved with R.I.P. and skull motifs show death dates going back to the early years of New York’s settlement. Halloween seems particularly authentic in the mystical countryside of the Hudson River Valley. In the shadowy evocative hills and hollows of upstate New York I began to appreciate and savor the beauties of things neglected, spooky, and in disrepair and to follow the eerie allure of that which has been forgotten.
The mysteries and terrors of Halloween occupy miles of store shelves and hours of costuming fun but my favorite part of the fall season is the harvest. I adore, and I do mean adore, the neat rows of bottled fruit in my pantry and the frozen gems of raspberry and strawberry jam in my freezer. The practice is labor intensive and not always a frugal practice still I find growing, harvesting, and preserving food to be deeply satisfy. Perhaps I crave a hedge against insecurity and some future apocalypse. Surely, home grown and home preserved food is the most delicious. From Utah to Wyoming to Alaska to Idaho, I’ve engaged in some large or small effort to preserve from my own garden or the local harvest. In Utah, Wyoming, and Alaska that harvest included fishing and hunting: deer, antelope, moose, salmon. But as I contemplate writing about that particular harvest I realize it would take an additional essay for each adventure to be adequately detailed. I will save hunting expeditions for some other post.
Here, now, in my home above Emmett, Idaho the buff colored hills are punctuated by spots of orange, yellow, and red. The valley below is a patchwork of orchards and farms where we thankfully observe the the cycle of planting and harvesting. Last Sunday, we enjoyed a feast of autumn dishes with family: pork roast, potatoes, gravy, and apple-pear tart. This morning we turned on the gas fireplace to drive off the morning chill. Halloween is just a few days away. My grandchildren will re-enact the yearly costume ritual redolent of the road to Sleepy Hollow where their several times great grandfather, Peter, served freshly harvested foods to weary travelers taking shelter from the terrors of the night on Windham Mountain in in upstate New York.