The stretch of Route 12 from Cornish, going south, is one of my favorites in the state, with the kind of vast, sweeping views foliage seekers typically travel north to find. It was 6:30 p.m. when we reached Walpole — a town whose profile has been greatly elevated by the presence of the filmmaker Ken Burns. In the general store, there is an unusually fine array of cheeses and takeout — great for filmmaking crews and fall foliage picnics. Just down the road is a perfect place to consume these items: Alyson’s Orchard, where you can buy a half dozen or more varieties of apples, or pick your own and eat them in the orchard (possibly with that good cheese) looking out to the red and golden hills.
For Jordan and me, the hour was closer to dinner than lunch, so we headed back into my onetime home of Keene (I wrote my novels “Where Love Goes” and “To Die For’’ there) — known as the town with America’s widest main street. A couple of years back, the city funded a project to paint murals on the sides of brick buildings featuring highlights of Keene’s history. My favorite is the portrait of Jonathan Daniels, who grew up a few houses from the one where my children and I once lived. Daniels was shot in Alabama in 1965 while participating in a Civil Rights action.
I still remember the town’s Pumpkin Festival. Every Halloween the residents would join forces to create a Guinness-world-record number of carved pumpkins that volunteers would set up with flickering candles on scaffolding throughout the square. But my favorite part came later — sometime around midnight on Festival Night — when I’d walk back into town alone to take in the sight of all those glowing jack-o’-lanterns with nobody else around. No pumpkin festival this year, because of Covid, but organizers promise it will return.
It was past 9 p.m. when we got back to the little cottage on a dirt road where I spend my summers now, a house I’d be locking up in a week or two, when the nights got too cold. Jordan and I had covered almost 400 miles since we headed out that morning, and I was feeling the weight of endings. Days getting shorter. My November birthday looming. Another year winding down.
I looked out at the lake on which my little New Hampshire summer cottage sits, with its solitary loon. The crickets were chirping, which made me think about the chapter of “Charlotte’s Web” I had just finished reading out loud in the car.
“Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year — the days when summer is changing into autumn — the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change,” wrote E.B. White. “‘Summer is over and gone,’ repeated the crickets.”
White got it right. Every autumn brings a small death, marked by the most glorious explosion of color, like the final round of a fireworks show before the sky goes silent. The good news: the seasons keep turning. Come spring, new leaves will sprout and we’ll begin the cycle again, if luck is with us.
Joyce Maynard’s most recent novel is “Count the Ways,” the story of one family’s four decades on a New Hampshire farm.
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