Fall as spectator sport

Students may feel too mature to jump in leaf piles, but that doesn’t keep them from engaging often in the season’s activities, as seen here in SUNY New Paltz’s old main quad. (photo courtesy of SUNY New Paltz)

Students may feel too mature to jump in leaf piles, but that doesn’t keep them from engaging often in the season’s activities, as seen here in SUNY New Paltz’s old main quad. (photo courtesy of SUNY New Paltz)

I have the good fortune of living on an orchard, one of the half-dozen that are on the Hudson Valley Apple Trail. Every autumn a convoy of Greyhound buses drive families from New York City and its suburbs into the heart of the valley. When I was younger, my cousins and I were drafted during this time of year to hand out bags, drive tractors and pick up trash from the fields.

It wasn’t the great cultural meeting that you might have expected.


During high school I grew apart from the farm. I ran cross-country and wrote for my high-school newspaper. I moved away for college, and the orchard became fodder for conversation. Often I fielded questions like “What kinds of animals do you have?” The implication was that a farm should have animals. I knew where this conversation was going. Apples and squash aren’t as interesting as livestock.

There is good reason people visit the Hudson Valley. It’s a beautiful region. On any given afternoon, when the temperature begins to drop, painters set up their easels on the shoulder of Butterville Road to capture the mountain in oil, acrylic, watercolors and pastels. Photographers dedicate rolls of film and memory cards to the mountain’s trees, streams and wildlife.

This year I moved back home to finish my education at the state college in New Paltz. The last time I spent fall in the Hudson Valley was five years ago.

I have mixed feelings about my current setup. Since more and more of us aging millennials are living at home, my own housing situation is becoming more widely accepted. On the other hand, I attend class with students six years my junior. It’s hard not to behave like a guarded local, as though I had special claim to the town. I do not.

Autumn in the Hudson Valley has always been a spectator sport. Before autumn sets in, two SUNY New Paltz students are reclining in Hasbrouck Park. The activity appears out of place this time of year. I get their attention and half-heartedly ask whether they are sunbathing. They are not.

Leah Warren is a junior who studies psychology at the college. She is from Long Island, and paints landscapes in her spare time. She added more colors to her palette when she arrived in the Hudson Valley. Apparently fall is more colorful in New Paltz than on Long Island.

Her friend, Shannon Quinn, is a junior who studies business. She is also from Long Island. Unlike Warren, she spends her autumn in haunted houses or picking apples and pumpkins.

Both students prefer going to school in the autumn than the spring. They feel energized when they return after the long summer break. The weather is mild, and there is more to do, like hiking on the mountain or walking on the rail-trail. Walking to bars is easier, too.

Outside the lecture center back on campus, a club is serving candy apples. The woman standing behind the table lifts up a bag to demonstrate she is almost out of stock. Christina Capodieci and Laura Scarimbolo wait at the end of the table, apples in hand. Capodieci is looking forward to the cooler weather. She lives in an old student dorm, and her suite doesn’t have air conditioning. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable for all eight of the suitemates to be in the common room at once, which is understandable.

Scarimbolo is the president of the Union Programming Council, the group that schedules events on the campus calendar. The fall is their busiest season. The mild weather allows the coordination of events outside as well as inside. At the mention of cooler temperatures, she makes an offhand comment to Capodieci that triggers a discussion of the Harry Potter-themed scarves the two friends knit together.

When the sun begins to set and peeks sideways over the mountain, four students are throwing a Frisbee across the campus green. I get their attention by hollering across the green. The three women in neon tops and man in grey sweats are members of Navigators for Christ. There are more members in the club who just aren’t playing Frisbee at the moment. Soon the man peels off from the group. He isn’t a student.

Elizabeth Apace is a senior who studies childhood education. Like many of the students I spoke with this day, she is excited about fall-related activities, not the least of which is playing Frisbee. When she does participate in outdoor activities, she feels more involved in other aspects of campus life which she notes that students don’t experience in the winter.

“What are you going to do in the snow?” Apace asks. “Build a snowman?” She riffs on the topic. “I mean we could give out awards for the best snowman.”

Zoe Minddendorf is a senior who studies Spanish. She says she looks forward to seeing friends, going to class, attending the club and going to church. Compared to the fall semester, she says college in the spring is like “coming back to the grind.” For Middendorf, spring 2017 will not be just another semester. It will mark the end of her college career. How does she feel about graduation? “Weird, but distant,” she replies. “There is the impending doom. But I don’t have to be an adult yet.”

Kerry Clingain, a senior who studies English and art history, is graduating in four short months. This, she says, compels her to spend time outside and soak up her last moments at SUNY New Paltz —at least while the good weather holds out.

“It’s exciting to think about what I will be doing,” says Clingain, “though graduate school is scary to think about.”

Fall in the Hudson Valley is relatively short. Soon the cold will arrive. Outdoor activity will be reserved for the hearty few. On the farm, I have watched for months as the trees have become heavy with fruit. These days, passengers from the buses take the apples from the trees and tomatoes from the garden. Any yield that isn’t harvested will fall to the ground and ferment into nature’s wine.