When a dear friend called and invited us to her birthday celebration in early October, I had more than one motive for agreeing: it had been eighteen months since I moved from Pennsylvania to Costa Rica; I missed my family and friends; I missed the quickened heartbeat engendered by the smells, sounds and sights of late October. I might get to see the fall foliage, I thought.
One of the things I love about Pennsylvania is the smash hit that plays along a highway near you around the last two weeks of October, and runs until the last leaves fall. In this production there are no bad seats, and the ticket is always free. It can be a sad story, a reminder of mortality; or a joyous one, with the implicit promise of renewal; regardless, it plays to packed houses.
The autumn I remember best is –oddly – one I missed. According to reports I received in Japan, where I’d just moved, the fall of 1994 won every award: the best golden yellows; riotous reds; and outrageous oranges in decades. In Japan, subtlety trumps tumult, even in nature. Quiet mahogany replaces reckless red; lemons and golds mutate into pale straw; and dull copper displaces bold orange in the landscape. It’s still lovely, but without the drama. That year, I felt like I saw the elementary school play instead of the Broadway production. This year, I would have a front row seat.
The foliage began to change during our two-week sojourn, despite rumors that it wouldn’t. Scorching summer days and scant rain don’t usually spell an obstreperous outbreak of fall foliage; nonetheless, as we drove around and through the countryside west of Valley Forge, I vibrated with the passing colors. Although this year was a bit more muted than in other autumns in my memory, the occasional flaming red, safety-badge orange and sunny yellow warmed my heart and satisfied my yearning.