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Catskill, New York
Environment | Fiction/Memoir | Soft news
19 September 2019 05:43PM

No, not that season. This season. Fall. My favorite season. Maybe. The other possibility would be spring.

I’m not too crazy about summer or winter, the two extremes of our weather. Summer because of the heat and winter because of the cold. Too much of both for me. I find I spend as much time as possible indoors during both seasons because of labor free heating systems and air conditioning. Yes, summer is beautiful with its lush greens and myriads of flowers. And winter is beautiful with new fallen snow and a silence that is unlike any other.

There was a time when I liked winter better than I now do. Those were the years when I skied, usually at Catamount. I’d never skied until I was in my 50’s and that came to an end after my heart attack when I was 59. Otherwise, it’s staying inside for me to avoid the cold unless I have to go outside to blow some snow around.

And summer, in my childhood, was a time mainly spent at sleepaway camps when I was old enough, reluctantly planting or weeding in my mother’s garden (or avoiding it) or caddying at the Copake Country Club from time to time when I was in high school. But always sweating in the heat of my parents’ house on Copake Lake. I hated that heat.

I could do without both seasons.

Spring is obviously the time of rebirth, of new growth, of green leaves appearing where dead looking branches had been, of lawns springing to life, of crocuses and daffodils and tulips poking their heads above ground and stirring us with their colorful displays.

But then there is fall, a season that reveals astonishing truths. It’s easy to say that I love the glorious colors of Fall, the leaves of trees turning all shades of reds and yellows, of vermillion and ochre. What is astonishing, though, is not that the leaves turn these colors. It is that they are there all along. They are only revealed as chlorophyll breaks down in the cooling air, and the green gradually disappears, not to change into fall’s colorful display but to reveal their true basic colors, to reveal who they really are.

For me, personally, it was in the fall, that I discovered America, the Beautiful. Not the America of liberty, freedom and democracy, the America of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, a discovery I began to make during a journey that I took with my grandfather to Washington, DC when I was 12 year old and that I described in a column for this newspaper (“Becoming an American”) on June 29, 2018. No, not that America but of this other America, the aesthetic marvel that it is,

In 1984, one of my assignments for PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, was to travel wherever in the country I chose, looking for postcard views of the American landscape, the kinds of pictures that we used to think of as Kodak moments. And so, starting that September, just after Labor Day, I traveled the country with a cameraman, shooting what we saw along the way. Wild buffalo in South Dakota. A rusting plow in a long-abandoned field in the Badlands. The wonders of Mount Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. A 40-mile-long dirt road near Utah’s southern border, driving south to Lake Powell, every mile revealing one alien looking landscape after another. Moonrise at dawn over Death Valley. Old mining towns in Arizona clinging to the hillside. The thousands of acres of the vast Yavapai Ranch near Prescott. All these a West that I had never seen before.

And then, moving east. The endless rolling fields of western Kansas. The lush, impossibly green cattle ranches along the Mississippi. The mighty Mississippi itself rolling south to the sea. The mountains of West Virginia in its coal mining regions where, if you tried, you could manage not to see the ugly detritus of the mines.

And then, finally, my last trip on this journey. We flew up to Lake George and then drove into the Adirondacks to an inn near Saranac Lake where we parked ourselves for a few days. Fall was in its full colorful glory, a riot of reds, browns and golds. We shot all sorts of scenes but one moment I particularly remember was driving down an unpaved road for a few miles. It was getting late in the day, the sun casting that particular golden glow that is almost foreign to any other season, the leaves on the trees luminescent with the sun shining behind and through them. Every inch of the road was covered by fallen leaves, so much so that it seemed never to have been traveled before. As we drove, the leaves swirled behind in our wake, rising up in glorious swirls and then settling back to earth, once again completely masking the road, once again leaving no trace of a traveler.

I so wanted this piece to be able to end with my personal discovery of that America, America, the Beautiful but I cannot. We live in a very disconcerting time in our country, one in which partisan divide and anger seem to touch just about every aspect of our lives. For over a century, ever since President Grant created Yellowstone, the first national park, in 1872, we have sought to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural wonders and gifts of this great country. No longer.

The current federal administration seems to have decided that you can have too much of a good thing and a sizeable portion of America apparently agrees or, at least, goes along with it. They have decided that you can have too much clean air and too much clean water. You can have too little logging, too little mining, too little drilling, all enterprises that exact enormous tolls on the land, much of it land controlled by the federal government. The one thing you can’t have too little of is greed, too little of the wealthy having ever greater opportunities to make ever greater amounts of money and a government dedicated to making that possible. Those two things are not unrelated: the despoiling of our natural resources and the opportunity to make more money. One would not exist without the other. Ultimately, though, it will not be the wealthy who will bear the true cost of their rapaciousness. It will be us – we the people – and our children and our children’s children, who will have to pay the real price.

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