It’s so quiet. High noon, blinding blue sky. One feels like a medieval French peasant called away from the sheaves for midday prayer.
Drive down Main Street. There will be no other cars on the road. No tourists walking calmly, as in The Zombie Apocalypse, in front of your moving vehicle. The bathing and sunning enthusiasts (the local term is ditch swimmers) who clutter the narrow mountain pass and who pick their way down the rocky ledges to splash in the stream below have deposited their tons of detritus, clambered back up the stony rock face to peel parking violations off their windshields and left, sun-kissed and sucker-punched.
This is the meanwhile, the meantime, the interim, the grace note. This local yokel loves it.
Tourism is the mainstay of this area’s commerce. What you may not know is that tourists, like migrating birds and butterflies, travel in groups and on schedule. Befriend a waitress, and she can tell you which weekend belongs to which group. We have the Mountain Jam group, the Country Fest group, the cyclers, mountain bikers, geezer bikers, German Festival, Irish Festival, Beer Brewers and Iron Men. And Iron Women. Concurrent with these flocks are the more entrenched skiers, hikers, cyclers, vintage-car enthusiasts and Hasidim. They all have something in common. They all leave.
And they are happy. They are vacationing! So what if one has to wait on line at the one and only grocery store for miles around. What’s half an hour? What does it matter, anyway, if your favorite coffee hideaway, where you write and think and reminisce and conjure, can be likened now to a crowded barnyard? What matter the clucks, clacks, whines and grunts? Or that the waitperson is so distracted that the coffee machine ran through the filter twice, resulting in a pale, weak, apologetic brew?
We do not complain. We understand.
Within each migratory group one can encounter an individual with whom one can rediscover one of the wonders of the area. There we were, traffic jammed up in town at dusk, when a grouping of deer gallop across the road, legs synchronized like Busby Berkeley had rehearsed them for weeks. All the passengers in all the cars gesture and emit sounds of awe, and you are among them. It never gets old.
There is a time to play The Old, Wise Mountain Woman. It helps if you are costumed in muck-crusted boots, very worn jeans, flannel shirt and a messy up-do. They come to you, especially if you are caught on one of those lines at the supermarket. With questions.
The subject is not new to you. In fact, you have developed a patter, a bit, about such facts as these:
What are those brown, round things in the trees? Baby bears?
No. They are turkeys.
Really? Up so high?
Yes. Wild turkeys can fly and roost.
You’re wrong. I still think it’s a baby bear.
Sometimes one is saddened by what one knows.
Tourist: I’m so excited! I can’t wait for snow! I want to learn to ski! I just rented a ski house! It’s way, way up on a hill with a long, long winding driveway. About a half-mile long!
I back away smiling, not having the heart to bring up the subject of how this will morph with the changing constellations. How different the forecast is up here compared to, say, Prospect Park. And how excitement fades when one is hauling luggage and bags of groceries, at midnight, through hip-deep snow, after a three-hour drive, only to find that the power is out. And all posted snow-plow guys are chugging away, far away, in the deep of night, unwilling to take on more clients.
Some lessons are best not learned the hard way. Listen to me. Do not come here, do not even get in the car, or on the bus, with inadequate footwear. Are you listening? No flipflops! No strappy sandals, or crocs or Under Armour pool shoes. This landscape is treacherous and unforgiving, and you must have the proper footwear for it.
You have been told. I will be watching. We have had far too many very sad stories unfold here when this message goes unheeded.
It’s the beginning of the final harvest. Garlic and pumpkins are ready, or almost so. It’s harder to find certain locally grown crops, because this is not California. But it is apple-eating weather, and despite the weird springtime that hurt many apple blossoms, our protected valleys will give us a nice yield. But chickens lay fewer eggs now, and mares stop their winking at stallions, and wean their foals. Sheep, however, find the cool evenings perfect for love-making, thus the occurrence of spring lambs.
This is also a very good time — warm, sunny days and lower temperatures at night — to sow grass seed. And it’s time to plant next year’s garlic.
As quiet as these interim days are, and as summer-like as the weather can be, once the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls, one is very aware of the breath of autumn. The light is different. So are the shadows.
Something rustles in the eaves of the house as I fall asleep. Owls hoot. Coyote pups, born in early spring, are out in the moonlight, learning the ropes. They vocalize in weird yips and calls and make the dogs howl. Night is taking over, and it’s less friendly.
Autumn is breeding season for porcupines, which segues with removing porcupine quills from dog snouts becoming a cottage industry at many veterinary hospitals. Deer, turkey, partridges, bear and raccoons take the place of wandering tourists in stepping in front of your car.
This is all to the good, however. It keeps you in training for February, when it’s skunk mating season and the little stinkers seemed determined to die, taking your olfactory sense along straight to hell.
These late warm days are heavy with the perfume of goldenrod and sweet grass. Soon enough there will be wood smoke in the morning air. The lines are gone from the supermarket and the deli. Without the crowds, I get to see my neighbors there.
No one is at the lake during the week. Bring bread crumbs and make the fish sound at dusk. A single scarlet maple leaf twirls earthward, something sad but pleasurably so, in the spiral.