You have been duped. You’ve been sold a bill of goods in relation to the whole “foliage” thing. You came to Vermont, to the University of Vermont, expecting the state’s crown jewel. The magnum opus of Vermont seasons and of Vermont’s canon. Instead of classes, during October you thought you’d be running flanneled and scarfed through golden fields and under covered bridges, hugging gourds and tapping maples: lost in an endless corn maze of Americana. You wave at a friendly general store clerk. There’s dust in your hair from jumping into that colossal pile of leaves. Just as you greet the old codger he begins to fade. The apple cider he was holding out for you, steaming, begins to fade too. It starts to rain. The trees are brown.
Whenever you ask someone about the foliage, all they give you is qualifiers. They’ll say, “oh, it’s not peaking yet,” or “we’re past peak,” or “it was too dry this summer, the foliage isn’t going to be great,” or “it was too wet this summer, the foliage just isn’t going to be great.”
At a certain point, we have to stop believing all these lies. Fall is what it is. Death.
I set out south from Burlington, looking for answers. My destination is Woodstock, Vermont, where the tourists outnumber the cows, swarming the gravel roads and snapping postcard pictures in puffy vests. My car is a Subaru Outback, the official vehicle of foliage. It runs on pumpkin spice latte. I call my mom from the road.
“Stop, you Grinch! People love foliage and it’s real! Your intentions are not pure.” Her aversion only fuels my fire of spite. I drive past the Stowe exit, where cars in the rain back all the way into the travelled lane. I scoff at their foolishness.
Arriving at Sleepy Hollow Farm, in Woodstock, I cackle at the lack of color in the tree. The farm, which can loosely be called a farm, is owned by Joe Perry of Aerosmith. It sits, rather beautifully, at the back of a winding gravel driveway, a farmhouse and red barn on either side. A peaceful pond reflects a maple tree. I stand awkwardly, arms crossed, in the back of the crowd. Peepers speak in a variety of worldly languages concerning the beautiful house, laughing just the same. Someone bites into a cider donut. There is an iron gate and a no trespassing sign, but they don’t seem to mind. The Nikons shutter. A young man and woman hold hands and look on. Various car tires crunch the gravel road.
All the couples ask me to take their picture. I ask one woman, down from Burlington like me, what she thinks of it. She pauses. “Honestly,” she says after the pause. Dismay fills her eyes and she droops her sweater and vest combo-ed shoulders. “Maybe we didn’t get the timing right.”
She tells me that other photos of Sleepy Hollow Farm are “over-edited” and “with saturation way up.” She moves her finger through the air to demonstrate a slider.
She thinks about this as her husky nuzzles into her leg. She reaches down to pet the pup before looking at her peeping partner. She looks back to me as a leaf flutters down gently between us. “Good luck with your story.”
I reach out to Kiel James Patrick, the Instagram-famous man who took the infamous Sleepy Hollow Farm photograph. He lives an over-edited life and has an over-saturated, albeit handsome, face. I plan to ask him how he edits his photographs, if people blame him for his deception and how it feels to sit on a throne of lies. He never responded.
Instagram has accelerated the lies of foliage. Countless robot accounts repost absurdly orange photos of Vermont scenes. The grass is the color of Nemo. They seem to compete over who can repost as quickly, and with as much saturation, as possible. The comments all seem fake too. “Beautiful! XO,” one says; another is just fire emojis. One comment is from a porn bot: “I’m wet! Check out my page.” So too was the summer, I heard, which is why the foliage is so bad.
I email Vermont hero and Channel 5 meteorologist Tom Messner, searching for answers and hope. He responds promptly. “There’s nothing like bright autumn leaves to bring Vermonters together in the spirit of celebrating the change of seasons. It’s hard not to smile when you’re eating a cider donut and looking out at a landscape of brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges.”
I head from Woodstock down to the Quechee Gorge. There is a soaring bridge from which to view the racing waters of the Ottauquechee River far below. There’s tall fencing to prevent people from jumping off, but peep holes for viewing and photographs. There’s a gift shop and a fried food stand next to it.
A man on the bridge asks me whether the water seems to be flowing uphill, evidently hallucinating from the glory of autumn in Vermont. “It’s a further drop from this side of the bridge, is it not?” He is clearly mistaken. “I suppose you are right,” I tell him.
“It’s amazing,” a woman standing next to me later says, “so peaceful.” A gaudy purse hangs over her shoulder. She may be chewing gum. Her neck is craned from the long drive up from New Jersey. She feels glowing warmth in her heart. It’s hard not to smile looking out at a landscape of brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges, I think to myself.
“It’s beautiful,” her husband looks to her, and out through the fence-made diamonds. He’s wearing a great blue polo and has his hand on her back. “With the sky and all.” He pauses and wags his finger at the sky. He seems delightfully pensive. “Stick your phone in the hole, honey.”
I leave the gorge without noticing the glimmer in my eye. A cascade of oranges and reds reflects off the two lanes of highway puddle. Just then, I hydroplane into foliage heaven. There, everything, not just the trees, has an autumnal tinge. The same general store owner you were picturing earlier is jovial, driving a John Deere through a pumpkin patch. Some kids giggle past a scarecrow. A farmer beckons me over: what bountiful harvest! A warm cider-y calm settles over me.
I couldn’t stop autumn from coming! It came! It came just the same! It came without oranges! It came without reds! It came without cider boiling in pumpkin heads! So welcome autumn as we stand, heart in heart and hand in hand.
Categories: front page, grant woods, oct. 12, vol 25