Try, if you can, to tear your eyes away from the riot of autumn color you see in the above photo; try, if you can, to ignore the curve of distant hillside and the shimmer of slow-flowing river. Instead, I want you to focus on the electrical lines you see stretched across Monday morning’s blue, blue sky: see them? Yep, this is the other side of the Ashuelot River; yep, these are the electrical lines that course behind Keene’s downtown businesses. Yes, you heard right: this gorgeous stretch of river is right in the heart of Keene’s business district, a convenient place to walk the dog. If you ignore the electrical lines, you might think this photo was taken somewhere in the New Hampshire wilderness…but let me assure you that as I took this photo, I could constantly hear the incessant traffic on West Street as cars and semi-trucks and all sorts of vehicles hurried by.

Columbus Day weekend corresponds with the height of Leaf Peeping season here in New Hamsphire, so as Kathleen has noted, this weekend our neighborhood was crawling with tourists. And yet, both Sunday and Monday I walked the dog in total solitude: Sunday because I pulled off a leaf peeper-packed stretch of Route 101 in Dublin to walk a little-known segment of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, and Monday because I walked right behind all the big-name local businesses (Blockbuster Video, Starbucks, Panera Bread) that the tourists have heard of and probably frequent at home. The same tourists who drove through Starbucks to get their lattes and cappuccinos before hitting the gas to head out to see the foliage have no idea that the same foliage can be found right behind Starbucks. If they got out of their cars and stretched their legs a bit, they’d see scenery just as pretty as that alongside Route 101, the Kancamagus Highway, or other well known (and heavily congested) scenic drives.

I don’t have a problem with tourists and tourism per se: as this very blog has shown, I like to roam around and see the sights as much as the next person. What troubles me, though, is that leaf-peeping and other forms of so-called eco-tourism tend to focus on far off and presumably “untouched” places. Leaf peepers don’t want power lines in their foliage photos; although they want to be close enough to buy coffee drinks at Starbucks, they certainly don’t want any signs from that same establishment to show up in their photographs. Yet the trees themselves don’t care: the maples that fringe the stretch of urban river behind Keene’s local businesses don’t “know” that they should be less spectacular than the maples that grow along more rural stretches of highway. Traveling far from home is one way to take in the sights, but so is staying close to home. If you expect nature’s beauty to dwell only in those spots billed as tourist attractions, you’ll miss the beauty that appears right under your nose.

The riparian landscape that looks so lovely in these photos is the same landscape that was cleared by electrical crews back in April. Obviously Nature has recovered; obviously Nature has healed her own wounds. Today the recently cleared electrical right-of-way along the Ashuelot was choked with fruiting buckthorn as high as my head: seems that even a brush-hog can’t keep Mother Nature down for long.

The irony of these particular pictures, each of them containing electrical lines and other signs of civilization, is that this part of the Ashuelot River Park is the portion I consider to be the wild side. Although this side of the river abuts neighboring businesses and is criss-crossed by high tension power lines, this side of the river isn’t consciously cultivated as “park.” Instead, the buckthorn and maples and sumac are allowed to grow as they wish, and no one looks twice if I allow Reggie to run off leash…because there is no one else walking to notice this girl and her dog. If “wild” means living on your own without outside interference, I guess this side of the Ashuelot and I are both living the wild life.

Earlier this month I posted four seasonal pictures of the Ashuelot River, all of them taken on her tamer eastern side. As a point of comparison, here is another view of the same scene, this one taken Monday morning as I was walking the dog. This year, you’ll note, the leaves aren’t yet as brilliant as they were this time last year; you’ll also note that some of the trees have already begun to drop their leaves.

Year-to-year comparisons notwithstanding, this maple is still my favorite tree in all of Keene, and if you compare what it looked like on October 11th this year with what it looked like on October 11th last year, perhaps you’ll see why. Who wouldn’t be cheered by the faithfulness of a tree that turns exactly the same color and retains exactly the same shape year after year? Impermanence surrounds us, but constancy itself takes root right under our feet.