The urge to see peak fall color is as stressful to me as a big dust day, in that it’s very possible to screw it up and lose it. Is it already at its peak? It should be higher? Am I too high or too low? Are the colors better over there? Where are those slippery patches of red aspen leaves that I love so much? Are dyes muted this year by blight, or am I the one who needs to be muted in this deciduous autumnal bounty? Why do leaves look more vibrant on social media than in person? Like the comic syndrome, “Everything used to be better in Aspen when I first came here,” the fall colors were so much brighter here in the ’70s.
Autumn comes to me in waves. The process begins innocuously enough one day, when I realize that summer has reached its peak. Both humanity and Mother Nature drive a series of coffin nails into the sarcophagus of our snowless holy season. First it’s the hollyhocks, with their majestic needles, and then gigantic billboard-shaped sunflowers politely warning of the end of summer. In the newspaper, there is an advertisement for Mountain Fair, and reality begins to sink in; autumn is near. Then you see a yellow tree and you don’t give it much importance. You file it away in the denying recesses of your gray matter.
Below, hillsides covered in service berries and scrubby oaks begin to change from a monochromatic green to a more mottled camouflage tint of jade and avocado. Then we have the Jazz Festival. After a blast of hot, dry weather, you can smell the pungent aroma of scrub oak, as the moondust from dry trails clings longingly to your calves, shoes, and socks. Next, you hear the haunting “clackety-clack” of a noisy grasshopper warning you to get your ski pass.
Later, the Golden Leaf trail race comes across as another beacon of summer’s demise, albeit strangely premature for its name. It may be necessary to change the name of the event to “Lime-Green Leaf”. Later, Smuggler Ravine above Centennial turns a soft yellow, ablaze with immature aspens. The smoky scent of fire-roasted chillies from the dwindling Saturday market wafts into town, sending another olfactory shot over its bow: Old Man Winter is waking from his summer sleep, like a mad bear hibernating in reverse. .
Peaches and corn show their fluffy, furry faces when Ruggerfest comes to town. Wagner Park looks heavily trafficked and kept wet after countless beasts have been ground into its surface like bits of sidewalk chalk. Red Mountain’s left shoulder is always the first to turn yellow, like a shy girl agreeing to the inevitable advances of an admired schoolboy. There is no turning back. It is autumn.
Morning glories tell sordid stories, of deep snow yet to come. Its rope-like vines climb skyward, like something out of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Pastures lie fallow and crabapples turn red. The bears and squirrels go into overdrive with a sense of urgency that we humans can almost relate to. And then the football season begins.
Expect. What is that sound? The heat in your house starts with a cough of dust like an old jalopy. A trip to his roof reveals a restless blanket of pine needles, clogged gutters, and heat tape that a vermin has gleefully chewed, like a gummy string of cherry licorice. Once again, you are reminded that there is much work to be done before winter arrives.
“Wardrobe!” yell your inner fashionista from your backstage dressing room, as now is the time to rotate your summer clothing stock into lined pants, long sleeves, thick fleeces, and closed-toe options. Clouds part after a storm, revealing a layer of fresh snow, as if Huck Finn had primed an old, weathered, jagged fence. Are you still in time to dye the cover? A sense of urgency appears.
I have yet to find that secret group of redheaded aspens to soothe my soul. Before you know it, all the leaves are lying on the ground. The city seems bare. Aspen has shed her clothes in broad daylight, like the easy mistress she is.
I get emotionally chipmunk this time of year. The pattern is a well-worn psychosomatic routine, sure as autumn itself. My world is spiraling further and further out of control. I’m doing a one man trust in the fall. The only thing that seems to help is aerobic exercise and the supplemental endorphin shot without a tracker. Are there already good ski conditioning classes? Maybe if I tuck in my belly, put on my new Helly Hansen one-piece ski suit, and move around the living room in ski boots, that will help.
And who’s going to pick up those leaves after the onlookers and all their incessant “oohs” and “aahings” have faded away? I guess the answer will be obvious when you’re staring down a rake handle in October, looking for the last lone red poplar leaf.
Contact Lorenzo at email@example.com or instagram.com/lorenzosemple3/