All Things Bright and Bucolic, or the Fall Fetish

If there is anything that can make me yearn for home like no other, it’s the smell of woodsmoke accompanied by a chill in the air, and a sprinkling of applause from the fading leaf cover on a graceful tree while said chill makes its presence known on my cheeks. All hail! Autumn approaches! The wavelike swell and fade of the breeze in the dry branches. The way the day seems like an egg freshly cracked when the yolk sun breaks open on the horizon griddle. And there is something particular about the mid-afternoon light, the unspoiled cerulean sky… Let me stop that before I get any more insipidly sentimental about all things bright and bucolic. Autumn has a tendency to bring that swell of feelings out in me. I blame it on my roots.

Although I have long prided myself for not being one who is prone to home sickness, I realize, with a few more years under my belt and what I like to think (pretend) amounts to some hard-won self-awareness, that is actually a crock of shit. I admit freely and with frequency (to the eye-roll annoyance of anyone who has to hear it. Again. For the 50th time. That day.) that I purposefully fled the “East Coast Pressure Cooker” – of Type A personalities, particular expectations, and an inescapable sense of failure and doom if you are not a retired defense attorney/doctor/CEO by 30 – half a decade ago. (But I exaggerate. A little bit.) At this point, I made my way to the Rocky Mountains (low relative humidity!) and snow (with blue skies!). Not to mention the profoundly life-altering experience of working in a wilderness treatment program with at-risk youth in said mountains (An unconventional schedule and an escape from 9 to 5 dolor!). And now, to the quiet, slow-down pace of Northern California wine country, to live with Jay, our two dogs and two cats, managing a piece of that paradise.

Sigh. However, October is a time when I cannot escape that sense of particular longing for my idea of home, which I know can only be sated by a walk under familiar maple trees, picking apples in an orchard and a jaunt in a couple of canoes with my family, or fellow Smithies on Mountain Day (which should be a national holiday, if you ask me. If I ever own my own company, it will be a paid holiday for all employees). Oh, and eating wild blueberry pancakes drenched in maple syrup. Not that Aunt Jemimah shit. The real stuff, boiled down from the lifeblood of the tree, for which people fork over a considerable chunk of hard-earned income. And which those dudes from Broken Lizard guzzled by the bottle-full in Supertroopers. (Well, at least in the first take.)

My own longings for the idea of home aside, living in what amounts to a different shade of nostalgia inducing pseudo-topias, for which our collective unconscious worries a wholly different ball of wax, is… well, a whole different ball of wax. In part. Yes, yes, we have fall. And it is obligingly symphonic in its grandeur. It lasts about three times as long as it does in New England, interrupted by a few torrential (week long) downpours (downs pour?), then and again. And we have apple trees and rivers upon which to canoe. Maple syrup? Well, so far as I know, it’s all imported, and therefore even more prohibitively expensive, but I take what I can get when my mom is not shipping me a year’s supply in a well-intended (though cumbersome) care package.  We have cider syrup. Maybe I’ll look more deeply into this one at the local market front, but that can wait.

Either way, despite my (arguably meager) experiences with world travel, seeing what I imagine to be some of the most beautiful landscapes time and the elements have created and ceaselessly transform, I still believe at my very core that New England has cornered the market on autumn.  Even if those visions of bright apples, plucked straight out of Eve’s sweaty palm, sipping clove and cinnamon laced cider, steaming in a mug clasped by mitten-clad hands, and blissfully leaning backward in a dreamily confident free fall into a gold and auburn pile of leaves are etched with some static, some salty dash of truth. If you care to still have a lawn, or a driveway that’s not a slick and stinky cover of slimy leaves, it all needs to be raked away in a sloppy brown pile – which meant a lot of tedious work to my adolescent mind. Fall is Nature’s fireworks finale: impressive and lively with color, but short lived, and leading to a series of bitterly cold, sniffles-and-numb-fingers filled months of the Purgatory of a grey New England Winter.

But here! In California Wine Country! Most of all, we have acre upon acre of rolling fields, dotted with cottonball sheep and wine grapes. And grapes, with more grapes, ad infinitum. To the outsider, the so called “way of life” here in Anderson Valley is often perceived as some sort of Norman Rockwell painting, or another throwback; a pumpkin pie slice of Americana dripping with an Authenticity Glaze. The local blacksmith whistles and hammers happily at his forge, his wares for sale at the local market. The tea kettle brews and squeals merrily, and the hot cinnamon rolls and scones are birthed from the baker’s oven, set sumptuously on the glass counter top. The shopkeeper puts out his sign and flips the “Open” sign to welcome in the morning customers. Like that opening scene in Disney’s rendition of Beauty and The Beast, minus all the Frenglish…

“How quaint! How cute!” people are often heard to exclaim. “You are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place! Don’t you feel so LUCKY?” As if they only are granted the privilege of a short weekend’s vacation, then back to the grey Bay Area dolor in skyscrapers, while we Mendo folk stretch and recline in our apple tree hammocks, like a sated cat,  purring over into eternity. As if we are the bright and shining faces painted onto the landscape, and they are merely visiting the museum. Maybe for me, as much for them, it’s the rarity which leads to trumped up nostalgia and longing. My memory mated with nostalgia could be as two dimensional as any tourist’s peep hole glimpse at my new hometown, as such short glimpses of Eden can allow us to romanticize beyond reasonable comprehension. Our eyes glaze over the realities. I’m not saying that apple and maple syrup production contingent in New England have any piece of the dark side of the farm industry and its egregious abuses of human capital, but I’m just sayin’ that wine didn’t make itself…

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