I went to sleep up at the Bogan Flats campground in Marble a couple weeks ago, and woke up to fall. The leaves were popping into a landscape of Halloween orange and chimney red, and the morning air was bracing, yet the sun still felt warm and comforting. These are the days of wide daily temperature swings, which Google tells me is called the “diurnal temperature range.” At this time of year, we will discover if our long pants still fit, so we can rock the jeans-and-sandals look — shamelessly accessorizing with a pair of wool socks when the diurnal range exceeds personal tolerances.
Despite knowing better, it sure seems to me that the days are shortening more rapidly quite suddenly. Darkness now falls well before I am done wanting to be outside. One of my favorite sounds is the ruckus made by large groups of geese caterwauling around overhead in the dark.
I love fall. Who doesn’t? Perhaps this carries over from my Midwest upbringing, in which spring and fall are the best seasons, facing little competition as it were, serving in the sweet spot between the cold and sunless winter and the hot and humid midsummer. Spring and fall in the Midwest share the same feeling of freshness and possibility as they do out here in the West.
My college summer job back in Chicago was to do swimming pool cleaning. This was in the days before nylon spring-taut seasonal covers, and the pools were usually left half-full to prevent them from popping out of the ground. In the spring, we’d pull back the massive rubber covers and drain the pool with a 3” trash pump, then haul out the accumulated tons of slimy leaves and various critters who were attracted to the dark and damp world under the tarp. As we waited for the pool to drain, we’d stand around in the relentless freezing Midwest rain, soaked in our blue jeans and cheap rain ponchos, and warm our hands in the hot exhaust of the pump. This is when I learned to drink coffee.
At the end of summer, I would leave behind my pool vacuum and head down to college in the rolling hill country of southern Indiana. Just south of the flat farm country of central Indiana, it’s a surprisingly beautiful place, with its limestone buildings and a bazillion trees splashing their colors across fat leaves. Since that time, fall has meant to me flashbacks of college, of tailgating at football games, and pheasant hunting over Thanksgiving.
Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, you’ll know that fall has arrived when Highway 133 is teeming with tourist leaf peepers inching along in their rented sedans, alongside big game hunters towing around their hillbilly rigs and dune buggies that cost twice as much as my first car. It’s the time of year when I hike wearing orange, or stick closer to home. The traffic light at the entrance to Carbondale routinely backs up with traffic on a Sunday, as long lines of locals and visitors string together behind their particularly slow-moving peers. As for fishing, well, if the fishing is slow, there’s no better time to settle down on the bank and take in the scenery while enjoying a refreshing beverage.
These days for me, fall means the Crystal River, and just up the Crystal, Penny Hot Springs has become quite a popular spot. So, we have a family rule that if we ever pass the parking lot and there are no cars, we must immediately stop and take a soak. There was no risk of this last weekend, as the lot was packed at all times of day and night. I am curious to learn what the county’s master plan will come up with for that amenity. I hope it doesn’t include a water slide, or a reservation system.
Autumn marks the end to an odd year for the garden, with the late start and a freak early frost. The farmers market never really got going until August this year, and the Olathe corn crop struck me as not the best as compared to other years. The chili roasting; meanwhile, did not disappoint. Interestingly, it seemed to me that Palisade peaches were available later than I recall in the past.
Fall is also soccer season for the kids. This too brings Midwestern memories for me, of standing out in a November rain, watching the action unfold through the mist at the other end of an impossibly long field.
With the passing of high school Homecoming festivities back here in Bonedale, there’s another Carbondale Potato Day in the books. This festival features perhaps the longest of our many parades, surpassed only by an election year, wherein all the local pols show up to hand out candy and campaign flyers along the parade route, vying for their chance to listen to people complain about stuff once a week.
I love how the town has preserved its connection to its potato growing past. I love the giant cheese caldron repurposed to boil cowboy coffee, and I love that the town park has a pit dug solely for the purpose of cooking the community lunch. I’m always a little jealous of the pioneer farming settlers to the Valley; I grew up in a place where everything was already named, and the people who named it all are long gone and forgotten.
Oktoberfest is just around the corner. Oktoberfest attracts a crowd of people who appear to only come to town for that event. Perhaps they are oompah band groupies. A friend is pretty sure that these attendees are actually rolled up with the tent at the end of the event, and stored for another year. In case you were wondering, the lyrics to the song are: “Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, Der Gemütlichkeit, Oans, Zwoa, Drei, Gsuffa!” There, now you can speak German. Just add a couple steins of marzen and you are good to go. You’re welcome.
Fall is also the time to scrounge the ski swap for kids’ gear, and to cut the big check for ski passes. It’s a bit of a ritual for me; gripe about the price in the fall, then gloat about the variety and lack of crowds all winter.
The seasonal cattle drives down the local roads remains a quaint but actually functional feature of life in town. I’m always a little jealous, watching the early morning riders pushing the reluctant and distractible herd along, while I watch through the window of my home office. The quiet of the next few nights is often punctuated by the bawling of the weaning calves and their mothers.
Well, this column seems to have turned into a series of nostalgic vignettes. I guess fall has that effect on me.
Malcolm McMichael lives in Carbondale with his family, family hamster and an extended family of outdoor gear. He still finds leaf piles irresistible.