Sunday’s snowy painting of the peaks was the third time this fall they’ve turned white. It’s likely the snow there will fade again, at least for a while, before it settles in for the long months of winter. This is the dance between the seasons: Winter takes one step forward, then two steps back as Fall makes another pirouette. I find myself caught up in the dance, back in that familiar place between eager anticipation of Winter and a wistfulness for fading Fall.
I drove north Sunday along the back roads of Vermont and New Hampshire through a golden shower of wind-born birch and sugar maple leaves, which rose up from the road as I passed and swirled around the truck before falling again, tumbling along the pavement in the wake of my passage, then settling to await the next car and take flight once more.
Most of the leaves have fallen now, although there’s one big sugar maple between my desk and the mountains still clinging to its yellow foliage, and the oaks and beech trees will hold their russet leaves a little longer. Once the leaves have gone completely and left the trees irregular skeletons of trunk, branches, tapering twigs, I am ready for snow. There seems little point to me in cold, leafless days without snow, and am anxious for Fall to give in, finally and completely, to Winter.
Still, there are things left to do as the seasons twirl around each other. We accomplish the work of shifting seasons in fits and starts – clearing the garden of its withered remains, stacking firewood, pulling hats and mittens and warmer coats from the closet only when we finally need them – moving more frantically when the weather turns toward Winter, and unhurriedly on those still-warm, brighter days.
Last week, between the fall’s second whitening of the peaks and the weekend’s snow, I made a pre-winter outing to the top of Mount Lafayette. The last time I made that hike, I think, was during high school, and I’d been wanting to get back to the summit for several years. Thursday was too good a day, too late in the season, to pass it up.
The summit showed white as I drove toward the trailhead, and the temperature hovered right around freezing as I set out, but the upward trek soon warmed me. As I climbed above treeline, a stiff wind with mingled with the October sunshine, the chill of one cutting into the warmth of the other. The white I’d seen from below turned out to be only rime ice, clinging in stubborn, frosty feathers to the high alpine vegetation and boulders, but already melting from the sunny side.
From the summit, bundled up in winter gear, I could see pockets of fall color lingering in the valley. By the time I returned to the relative warmth of the valley floor and looked back toward the summit, the white had receded from the peaks of the Franconia Range. One step forward, two steps back. At least until Winter finds its beat and dances on past Fall.