Saturday, October 15, 2011

Autumn Rituals

"Then summer fades and passes and October comes. We'll smell smoke then, and feel an unexpected sharpness, a thrill of nervousness, swift elation, a sense of sadness and departure." --Thomas Wolfe

Fall is such an emotion-charged season. I am so reluctant to part with those languid summer days that offered early sunrises and late sunsets. But there is so much beauty surrounding us as the colors begin to show on the trees and in the uniqueness of October sunsets. Autumn in Maine has a particularly special feel: honking geese above in their organized V's heading south, the crispness in the air that barely covers the waft of smoke from a wood fire warming a neighbor's kitchen or family room, the comic antics of squirrels and chipmunks feverishly gathering and stowing their pantry provisions for the colder days ahead. It's hard not to love this season despite the message of seasonal shift it brings.

Late October is a feast for the senses. The sound of dry leaves swirling in the wind or being kicked aside by a trudging schoolboy. The cold gust of wind hitting our faces, momentarily taking breath away. The aromas of a rich creamy soup simmering on the stove, preparing to fortify against the chill. The sun rides lower in the sky, casting elongated shadows and cheating us of hours of energizing sunlight we had just a few weeks ago.

Each October Brendan and I try to spend as much time in the rural areas outside of Portland as possible. Our rituals have become almost sacred. One of our favorites is a trip to tag our Christmas tree, more of an excuse to visit an old friend on a beautiful mountain and slow our city-pace down a notch. We also take a drive up to a beautiful farmstand overlooking the White Mountains to buy pumpkins, gourds, indian corn and bask in the harvest beauty on display. Today we combined the two and threw in a visit to some other places that reminded us how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place.

October may seem an odd time to be thinking about a Christmas tree...especially for someone who thinks Scrooge may have been on to something. Yup, Bah Humbug says it all in my book.

Sidenote: I abhor the commercialism of Christmas and particularly the recent tendancy to begin playing Christmas music in stores immediately after Labor Day. I have enough stress in my life without added pressure to find the "perfect" gift for everyone in my immediate family (including the dog), my extended family and my husband's family, decorate my home to pass muster for Martha Stewart, attend countless holiday parties bringing gifts and/or food that will make everyone ooh and aah, send greeting cards with personalized notes, bake enough holiday treats to feed a small army, travel through snow, ice, sleet, and hail to wish people good cheer and generally feel upbeat enough to wish perfect strangers a "Happy Holiday" or whatever. By Christmas, I just want to hang out in my pajamas and pretend the world beyond my front door doesn't exist. I'm exhausted at that point! And then some schmo goes and reminds me that I'll have to do it all over again next year. Thanks for nothin, pal!

Having said that, I LOVE going up to the Stop 'n' Chop farm in October. Finding the tree is secondary to enjoying the beauty of the spot and catching up with George, the owner who, after 20+ years, always recognizes us and loves to chat. Despite being confined to a wheelchair after a major stroke a few years ago, he is full of energy, energetic and always asks about Meredith whom he has watched grow up. His farm is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

It sits atop a ridge looking across the valley at Douglas Mountain to the south.

Years ago he raised sheep on the farm but turned to Christmas trees when that market began to soar.

Besides the attraction of such a beautiful location, his trees have always been top quality and by cutting them down ourselves right before the holiday we always know we are getting the freshest, most aromatic tree available. He practices sustainable tree farming as well, replanting a tree for every one sold.

Here is Brendan standing next to our choice for this year. It's a super-wide, just the right height, guaranteed to dominate our living room while making it smell super-piney! We usually spend an hour or so wandering the fields, looking for the perfect tree, only to end up going back to the first one we selected. This year we cut out the wandering and admitted that we had a winner after about ten minutes. Yay!

It was a typical autumn day with blustery winds and dramatic clouds rolling in. The sun came out for a few minutes but then disappeared behind a large cloud.

There is an abandoned old barn across the street that just begged to be photographed so we obliged it.

Each year it seems to lose more glass from the windows and become more and more weathered. The holes at the eaves were nesting spots designed for barn swallows, a typical feature of the barns in the area.

The side seems to be in danger of collapsing so
I have a feeling one of these years we will go up
to find it gone completely.

George's barn is showing its age but still seems pretty
solid. It has a foundation of massive granite blocks
holding it up, like many barns in this area.

They aren't going ANYwhere anytime soon!

All the barns ands houses in the area are equipped with lightning rods because of the high elevation and the metal roofing. It must be so impressive to see during a thunderstorm!

Our next stop was Weston's Farm in Fryeburg, one of our favorite Fall destinations each year.

They do pumpkins, squash and gourds like nobody else...

Everything is displayed by variety so neatly.

The pumpkin patch has every size and color and they have even separated out "pie" pumpkins from "jack-o-lantern" pumpkins.

Brendan loves the gourds so he picked out a bunch to bring home.

Is this the color of Autumn or what!?

I love these little guys so picked up a couple for my desk at work.

I always take a picture of these grasses blowing in the fall wind.

A couple of these beauties came home with us for some butternut squash soup.

After a picnic lunch next to the Saco River we headed home. We made one last stop at another farm stand to buy some amazing Amish butter and discovered this big boy...

It's a little big for our front porch...heck, it is BIGGER than our front I convinced Brendan we didn't need to take it with us. But inside were lots of goodies that DID go home with us!

Once again, as we pulled into our driveway, we assessed the day and gave it a definite thumbs-up! So much of what we saw today reminded us of how lucky we are to live in Maine...especially in the autumn!

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