Before the Leaves Fall

There is one tree outside my house in Northern California that turns bright red at the end of the Indian Summer.  It is the first, if not the only, hint of the coming autumn, and as a little girl I found myself staring out the window at the small tree, trying to see if I could watch the leaves turn from green to yellow to red.

College brought me out East, and those four years of Fall became my new Christmas.  As the summer would end, I would get giddy with anticipation, unable to control my excitement for the season of fresh apples, pumpkins, cider, and orange foliage.  I would beg my new friends from Connecticut, Vermont, and New York to take me to all the secret places where we could admire the woods, so unlike the evergreen forests I grew up with by the wild Pacific Ocean.

These places remain my favorite destinations every fall.  Each represents the quintessential New England autumnal shift, but is a bit off the beaten path so you can breathe in the brisk air and admire the colorful explosions in peace.

1) Storm King Art Center- Moutainville, NY

Nestled near Bear Mountain in the Hudson Valley, beautiful and strange pieces of art are scattered across 500 acres of fields, hills, and woodlands.  Gigantic statues and hidden sculptures impress and allure, while your senses are completely inundated with color for the surrounding trees.  I’ve never seen such an array of leaves!  Oranges, pinks, and purples stand out against the bright green branches that stubbornly wait to change until right before winter.  On your way to or from the magical sculpture garden, make sure to stop at one of the family run farms along the side of the road where you can find homemade fudge, apple cider, and of course, donuts.

2) Mianus River Gorge Preserve, Bedford, NY

From April to November, you can visit this oasis of rich woodland and old-growth forest.  The one hour drive from New York City will lead you to 750 acres of quiet, secluded beauty, and 5 miles of hiking trails through the dense trees.  Squirrels run around in the branches and flowing water can be heard from all around.  The preserve was established in 1953 to protect an old-growth hemlock forest, and during the winter a limited staff focuses on research and land maintenance.  The gorge is amazing in every season, but the autumn really shows off all the different kinds of trees growing in one forest.

3) Montpelier, Vermont

Obviously, Vermont is the place to go if you’re looking for fall foliage.  There are a million places to celebrate autumn in this state, but Montpelier is my favorite.  This small town is the capitol, but feels much more like a hidden village amongst the bright mountains.  Downtown you can find cozy music venues, local beer, and freshly baked bread.  If you venture a few minutes out of the city, you’ll find flowing rivers and colorful woods.  Top it all off with a bulky knitted sweater and some pancakes covered in maple syrup, and you’ve got yourself the epitome of fall.

4) Old Orchard Beach, Maine

The drive up to Maine is breathtaking itself.  Lining the highways is an array of fall colors that makes getting stuck between 18-wheelers way less stressful.  Old Orchard Beach is a typical coastal vacation community, but in the autumn the renters all leave and a quiet, serene energy takes over.  Many of the little wooden cabins are empty; as is the beach, save for a few local fishermen.  You can find fresh lobster to bring home, and there’s nothing like making a fire at night after a long walk along the shore.

5) Cambridge, Massachusetts

Nothing spells fall like college students wearing scarves and carrying books and drinking tea.  There’s something about being near the brick buildings of Harvard that evokes that nostalgic sense of the changing of seasons and the beginning of a new semester.  The campus is beautiful in the crisp air, and young people with rosy cheeks walk in every direction.  There are plenty of bookstores, coffee shops, and restaurants to get cozy in and take in the scene.

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