FALL is a favorite time of hikers: Woods and mountains undulate with long files of people as autumn's tang crispens the air. For the hiker the rewards are many: visual splendors, renewal with nature, the enveloping serenity of woods -- and spending time, however briefly, with people. Not only with those in one's own hiking party, but others along the trail.

Like the white-haired couple nimbly descending from a peak with a smile and quiet encouragement for those on their way up. Or the veteran walker who patiently answers a neophyte's questions, from climbing technique to hiking boots. Or the strapping young man who keeps careful watch over a solitary climber clambering down a tricky passage.

For many a father or mother there's a special benefit: a trailside cementing of closeness between parent and child. They may be talking about the thrill of the mountainous conquest -- or the hunger for lunch. But what they're experiencing is an indispensable element of successful family life: the mutual sharing of time, in the annual autumnal expedition -- a tradition running from yesteryear's Indian villages to today's suburban encampments.

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