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New England Is the Epitome Of Autumn

The grand display of the season flows from north to south here, and with it comes food for body and spirit

By Richard J. CattaniRichard J. Cattani is editor of the Monitor. / October 30, 1989



BOSTON

FALL sweeps a coat of many colors across New England. Down from the St. Lawrence River, day by day, until it nears the New York City metropolis, the colors of fall - pinks, flaming reds, luminous yellows, limes, umbers - all familiar to Northeasterners, startle us again. For so staid a region, autumn is a contradiction. It can seem out of season. It comes as a maypole would to northern clime in spring, a transition to celebrate. Though its winters can be dreary, New England has little spring to speak of: Rhododendrons and azaleas can be admirable in May, and in June the lilacs are intoxicating. But here the grandest display comes with the harvest, compounding the gratitude inspired by corn, gourds, apples, and quince.

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Not all autumns are equal. Without the sun, autumn would slip south unnoticed. It is sunlight that illumines the residue of color in leaves masked through the summer by chlorophyll. Sometimes only an afternoon's break in the clouds shows autumn at its epitome. Then a hillside view is a must: A tapestry of colors spreads out before you; you look hard to imprint it in your memory. A single sugar maple tree is found with the sun shining through it like a stained-glass window in a cathedral.

A week of heavy rains, or too quick an arrival of cold and snow, and autumn can be obliterated. Only in calendars and travel brochures can seeing it be guaranteed.

Fall is a movement. It travels south with the ducks and geese, the hawks and smaller birds. It flows like a river abandoning its course, leaving forests denuded.

Because autumn is changeable, it is as apt to be found at its best nearest one's home as its crest passes. So it proved for our photographer, who searched for autumn's best moments farther north but found it at its peak in Boston's western suburbs.

AUTUMN begins here with the bright reds and yellows of the swamp maples; it ends with the leaf-fall of the stolid oaks, which never quite let go.

The frost first wilts the fragile basil. Cucumbers and melons are then left naked by their shriveled vines. Another wave of cold takes down the tomato and pepper plants: To avoid the unique bruise of frostbite on the harvest, we collect the garden fruit; on the kitchen counter we spread the peppers, eggplants, and the tomatoes with their own spectrum of color from green to full-ripe red.

The raspberries hang on longer; ants climb their stems more and more slowly, searching for the last nectar of summer; with the onset of winter, berries can sometimes be found encrusted in ice; but they, too, eventually succumb.

Autumn moves past, impermanent but for the images left behind.