Leaf and sky

Every year, I worry that I’ll miss the so-called “peak” fall foliage season. If you travel to (or even within) New England to leaf-peep in the autumn, you presumably don’t want to waste your time looking at anything but the best colors, so there are handy maps to help you determine which places offer the best leaf-peeping bang for your travel buck.

Leaf and shadow

If you live and don’t travel much within New England, you don’t chart your leaf-peeping by maps. Instead, you see whatever you stumble upon, particularly if October is your busy season and you don’t have time to drive to picturesque spots offering the best autumnal money-shots. Last year I struggled to find a handful of appropriate images for the Photo Friday theme “Autumn,” and this year, I find myself facing the same sort of insecurity. Given the challenge of picking one picture that says “Autumn,” how can any one image live up to the hype?

Driveby

If you think that fall foliage has a “peak,” then you have a problem. What if you stumble upon, breathless, a particularly lovely autumnal scene, only to learn later that this vision of loveliness was merely mediocre? As soon as you think “peak,” you introduce the possibility of disappointment, for anything less than the height of perfection is second-best. Wouldn’t it be better to hold off in your peeping until you were quite sure autumn herself was peaking? And yet by waiting, wouldn’t you run the risk of missing that precise moment of visual perfection you were holding out for?

Green veins

I say to hell with peak foliage: I for one don’t have the time to wait around for it. While others are planning their fall-foliage tours against maps and weather forecasts, every day I just walk the dog. The pictures illustrating today’s post come from a dozen photos I snapped on Wednesday morning’s dog-walk; if you don’t like these, I have others. On any given day, the sights we see might be below average, prime, or merely mediocre, but they are, after all, all we’ve got. Whether or not this moment, this picture, this red-flaming leaf is Peak or not isn’t my matter to decide. Instead of waiting for the One Perfect Moment that captures Autumn 2009 in quintessential perfection, I’ll continue taking and sharing whatever images I can gather.

This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Autumn 2009.

Impress

This morning, among fallen horse-chestnut leaves, I found one perfect buckeye which I picked up and polished in my palm: a souvenir of the season.

Maple leaf on rhododendron

It’s mild and partly cloudy today after yesterday’s unremitting gloom and last night’s rain: a perfect Saturday. It’s Columbus Day weekend, so half of Massachusetts will be driving up to New Hampshire to look at the leaves of others while half of New Hampshire drives up to Maine. As for J and I, we’ll stay close to home this weekend, realizing our own backyard is just as lovely as anyone else’s.

This morning I saw a single red maple leaf snagged in spider-silk, wildly dancing in a breeze that showered down its gold and crimson fellows. It was almost eerie to see one single maple leaf caught in suspension, as it autumn itself were held in abeyance.

Dogwood berries

Time stops for no one, and changing leaves and ripening berries are a vivid reminder of that simple fact. These days of gold and crimson are the ones we New Englanders live for, cherish, and hold in memory: bright days savored against bleak times. These are the days that get us through the cold, monochromatic days of December and January, when color is a distant memory.

This isn’t something a leaf-peeping tourist can appreciate, for the true beauty of a New England autumn doesn’t fully ripen until mid-winter, when both the leaves and their peepers are gone. In the dark days of mid-winter, only hope and the memory of bright gold and crimson breezes remain, curled like cotyledons in their seeds. The memory of these bright and brilliant days is what we New Englanders tuck inside our souls like folded snapshot, a cherished memento to cheer us when the nights are long and cold.

Autumn

This past weekend was sunny, so the trees glowed as if someone had turned them on with a switch.

Brilliant

Leslee has blogged the TVs of others, and Maria has blogged others’ dreams. On a weekend when many New Englanders headed to New Hampshire to peep northern leaves, I was considering the leaves of others in Massachusetts: the neon flashes of foliage seen during my routine weekend morning dog-walks in Newton.

I’ve spend spending my weekends in Newton for several months now, and I’m still not comfortable taking photos of the residential neighborhoods there. In Keene, I’ve been snapping impertinent pictures for over three years, so my neighbors have grown accustomed to that crazy woman who walks her dog with a camera. In Keene, I have no qualms about walking into the middle of a quiet residential street, crouching on my hams, and shooting whatever strikes my fancy; if someone were to question my odd behavior, I’d simply respond that I live here. For good or ill, I haven’t attained that level of comfort in Newton. Although these days I spend more time in Newton than I do in Keene, I still don’t feel like I live there. My mailing address remains in Keene, as do most of my belongings, and Keene is where I pay my own rent, utilities, and other necessities of “Real Life.”

Crowning

In Newton, I still feel like an interloper, as if at any moment the Propriety Police will come upon me unannounced and escort me from the place: “I’m sorry, but your kind isn’t welcome here.” I’m not sure where or why I’ve gotten this impression: it’s not as if anyone in Newton or elsewhere in Massachusetts has ever treated me like an unwelcome outsider. Perhaps my unease stems from my earliest days in New England, when I was a fresh-faced graduate student at Boston College and couldn’t afford to live in Chestnut Hill, the tony Newton neighborhood near campus. I still can’t afford to live in Newton, even more than a decade (and a completed PhD) later. Profs and professionals abound in Newton, which boasts an inordinate concentration of people with PhDs…and yet when I walk the streets there, I’m acutely aware that my adjunct instructor’s paycheck does not reflect my academic credentials. Although I really am a doctor, I typically feel like I only play one in academe. In a lush and leafy neighborhood where people drive nice cars, live in even nicer homes, and enjoy other accoutrements of financial success, at times I feel like I’m only playing house.

Towering

When I first began teaching as a graduate student at Boston College, back when I lived a long subway-ride away in relatively affordable, working-class Malden, my grad student colleagues and I used to discuss our lingering sense of fraudulence. Standing in front of a classroom of freshmen, we felt we were faking it, our knowledge only diploma-deep. Surely if the Real Professors in our midst could detect phoniness like a stench in the breeze, they’d sniff us out for sure. When would our freshmen, we wondered amongst ourselves, figure out that we were clueless students just like they were, only a couple years’ older?

More than a decade (and a completed PhD) later, I still feel like a fraudulent faker: I somehow feel it’s only a matter of time before some intrepid Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals my show as sham. Walking the streets of a lush suburb populated by the Settled and Successful, I feel more like the clueless graduate student I was than the presumed professional I’ve become. At what point, I wonder, will someone figure out I don’t belong in Newton but am simply faking it?

Golden glow

Newton, like other surrounding suburbs, is a bedroom community for Boston, and I’m mindful that most folks don’t like strangers snapping pictures in their bedrooms. On Sunday when I snapped these shots of the turning leaves and neighboring houses I regularly see when I walk Reggie there, I did so semi-surreptitiously. It felt weird to be ogling other people’s leaves, as if leaf-peeping and window-peeping share more than a common gerund. Would people mind if I shot images of “their” houses even if I did so from the public space of a city sidewalk? Would homeowners be rightfully protective of “their” trees? Emerson claimed that poets are the only ones who own the landscape, for “There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts.” But still, the citizens of Newton pay a pretty penny for the privacy their abundantly leafy trees afford; isn’t it somehow criminal–or at least morally suspect–to intrude?

Gleaming

Faced with the ethical question to shoot or not to shoot, I chose the former. Given the number of visiting Massachusetts leaf-peepers I’ve shared New Hampshire roads with over the years, it seemed fitting to return the compliment. There’s plenty of landscape, I think, to satisfy poets, profs, and professionals alike, at least from the suburban safety of Newton’s streets and sidewalks. If we can share the road, presumably we can share the gleaming autumn leaves that right now are screening our sky.

Click here for a photo-set of images from Sunday’s dog-walk. Enjoy!