Thursday, October 29, 2009

Autumn Scenics

Despite my dislike for fall, you can’t be in New England at this time of year and not go out on a picture-perfect afternoon to admire the foliage. Last Sunday, October 25, was just such a day. I went for a walk in the late afternoon to catch the low sun on the trees and the river, and these images hardly do the landscape justice.

My immediate neighborhood here in South Deerfield, Massachusetts is an odd mix of run-down homes and cul-de-sac spurs with obviously affluent subdivisions. Taking a walk down one such road brought me some spectacular views of North Sugarloaf Mountain, and this estate beneath, complete with a riding arena. There I met Kim, who greeted me on her riding mower as she vacuumed leaves off the steep lawn in front of her family’s house, situated right on the side of the mountain. Her daughter was riding her horse, exercising the equine to help it recover from an injury that kept it out of major shows this year.

Kim is typical of the strangers I’ve met here: Warm and friendly, and eager to share their experiences with the land. By the time we parted I had been invited to their Halloween party this Saturday.

North Sugarloaf is the wilder sister of South Sugarloaf, with a deep “saddle” between the two buttes. The farms that abut the base of both are breathtaking and suggest the quintessential romantic rural life. Blight killed off all the tomatoes this year, and tobacco (yes, tobacco!) was a total loss, too. Life is not as idyllic as it appears on the surface.

South Sugarloaf Mountain is the tourist attraction here. A yet-to-be-released movie starring Mel Gibson had a scene filmed at the top last year, where the observation tower stands. Manicured, clear-cut, and landscaped to offer a panoramic view and picnicking sites, it is decidedly less natural than its northern twin. I find the view looking upslope to be more inspiring than that from the summit, which takes a disappointingly short time to reach, even if you do not drive your car there.

Go around South Sugarloaf and you head downhill to the bridge between South Deerfield and Sunderland, over the mighty Connecticut River. This view looks upstream with Mount Toby in the distance.

The Connecticut is a highly-controlled river, its levels at the mercy of floodgates that this year left the water high most of the time. Only rarely did one see sand bars on the island or any semblance of a shoreline along the heavily-wooded banks. Just beyond the tree-line, however, the land gives way to agriculture. The University of Massachusetts has a large farm devoted to growing turf and sustaining cattle, among other experimental pursuits.

Here is a typical view behind the veil of trees.

The light fades too fast and I find myself wanting to chase the sun. The wind has not yet surrendered, and blows a reminder of wilder ways across the surface of the Connecticut, writing in ripples about seasons yet to come.

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