Early this morning, my neighbors left to go leaf-peeping in Vermont. I watched them load their car with suitcases, cameras, jackets, walking shoes, and a fat notebook stuffed with maps to help them find the most scenic roads on the long drive from Iowa to Vermont. I smiled and waved a cheerful goodbye as they drove away but, to be honest, I wasn't feeling cheerful at all; I was feeling pangs of jealousy, wishing I could go to Vermont, too.
My problem: I remember the October my husband and I went to see the leaves in Vermont. The last of our five sons had just left for college and, feeling a little sad but strangely carefree, away we drove.
Starting in Vermont's southwest corner, we drove slowly north, then looped south, covering the state in a leisurely sweep of beauty.
I'll never forget the clear blue sky, the brilliant red maples, the country markets selling maple syrup, and the quaint New England villages. And I'll forever remember our surprise when, driving on a country road in the Green Mountains, we happened upon a Robert Frost Memorial Trail. No one else was there so we walked the trail slowly, reading quotes from Frost's poems posted on pedestals along the path.
There's no doubt about it: October in Vermont is spectacular – and I wanted to go back.
So as I waved goodbye to my neighbors, I was thinking, "Well, here I am. Just another ho-hum day in Iowa."
But as long as I was up and dressed, I decided to spend the morning at our local farmers' market. My trips are usually rushed, but that day I'd have time to look around.
As soon as I got out of the car, the aroma of apples filled the air. It looked as though every variety was for sale, as well as every species of potato and squash. There were red, green, and yellow bell peppers; tomatoes; hundreds of gourds and bright orange pumpkins; piles of ears of Indian corn; branches of bittersweet; and big pots of chrysanthemums. A young woman was selling pretty pillows embroidered with the words "Welcome Fall."
I looked around. No Vermont maple syrup here – and no New Englanders with their charming accents, I thought. But I decided I'd buy a few of the plain old Iowa things as long as I was there.
Back home, I paused out in front to put the big pot of golden mums beside the mailbox. A stranger slowed his car. "That looks beautiful," he called.
"Thanks," I called back. But I thought: If you think this is beautiful, you should see Vermont in October.
On the front porch, I piled the gourds and pumpkins in a wicker basket and hung a sheaf of Indian corn on the door. Inside, I arranged bittersweet in my grandmother's old brown crock and put the "Welcome Fall" pillow on the sofa. Then I cored six apples, stuffed them with brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon, and put them in the oven to bake while I made a peanut-butter sandwich and took it outside to eat.
No delicious cheddar-cheese chowder at a quaint country inn for me. Just plain old peanut butter under a plain old Iowa oak.
When I walked out front to get the mail and looked back at the house, the ash tree was golden in the sunlight, and the gourds, pumpkins, and Indian corn looked nice on the porch. Still, everything looked so Midwestern, I thought.
My dog Sophie and I have a pact (sounds silly, but it's true) about walking our nearby nature trail on lovely autumn days. So when she stared at me with her "it's time to go for a walk" look, off we trudged, even though I'd wanted to go into the house to read.
Our trail wanders through a stand of tall native oak and shagbark hickory trees, meanders for a while beside a creek, and then skirts a cornfield. A crow cawed above, and dry leaves crackled under our feet. At the crest of a small hill, I paused to look across the fields.
"Oh, Sophie," I said. "Look at that view!" Suddenly I felt a funny lump in my throat. "It's absolutely beautiful. It looks just like a painting by Grant Wood."
And that's when I realized what I'd known all along but had forgotten while wallowing in wishing: Iowa may not have red sugar maple trees, country markets selling maple syrup, New England villages, and Robert Frost poetry. But Iowa has rolling hills, black fertile soil, red barns, fields of cornstalks with goldfinches darting among them, and giant oak trees that turn deep garnet in the fall.
Iowa's October landscape is a patchwork of gold, brown, rust, green, and deep red pieced together in a pattern of quiet beauty. And Iowa has Grant Wood's love-of-the-land paintings.
So that evening I carried a big log into the house and started a fire in the fireplace – the first of the season. And as I watched the roaring fire and listened to its popping and crackling, I knew that this had been a wonderful October day filled with wonderful Iowa joys – the joy of hanging a sheaf of Indian corn on the front door, of creating an arrangement of bittersweet with its bright orange berries, of fluffing a pretty new "Welcome Fall" pillow, of eating baked apples warm from the oven, and of walking with Sophie in the hazy autumn stillness.
My October day in Iowa was as lovely as an October day in Vermont – just different.