Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jefferson City’s Big Holiday Party Weekend

This coming weekend is Jefferson City’s big holiday party; here’s the schedule. And everything I’m listing is family-friendly and free: Free, free, free!

Thursday, Dec. 1 (6 pm)—the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, at Rotary Park at the far north end of Bolivar Street. An annual event with entertainment, refreshments, and a visit from Santa Claus. This is a truly fun event; there’s no postmodern-anything to it, no cynicism, no advertisements, nothing but an old-fashioned, friendly, community holiday gathering. With cookies, popcorn, and hot cocoa!

Friday, Dec. 2 (6-9 pm)—Living Windows in downtown Jefferson City. They’ve been doing this wholesome event for nearly 20 years (nyah, nyah, Columbia): there are hayrides, dancers, carolers, refreshments, and much more. More than 50 groups will be participating; Santa will be at the Hawthorn Bank.

Friday, Dec. 2 (6:30-9:00 pm) and Saturday, Dec. 3 (2-4 pm)—Candlelight Tours of the Missouri Governor’s Mansion. If you have never been inside the lovely, historic public building, this is a great time to see it—at night, and all decked out for Christmas. The Governor and First Lady personally greet everyone who comes in, and high school choirs sing near the grand staircase.

Saturday, Dec. 3 (4:30 pm)—Jefferson City Christmas Parade (downtown). Holiday-themed floats, bands playing Christmas songs, and all that stuff. Ten bucks says you’ll get a free candy cane if you put your hand out! (After the parade, you might patronize one of Jeff City’s coffee shops or restaurants.)

Monday, Dec. 5 (6:30-8:00 pm) A Home for the Holidays: Jefferson City Sings for Safe Housing (at the Miller Performing Arts Center, 501 Madison St.). Local choirs sing carols as a benefit for Habitat for Humanity (which does good work here in Jefferson City). Free—but, um, since it’s a benefit, they’d love it if you donated some cash; so don’t think of it as “paying”—this is the season for giving.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Slow Saturday, Sliding toward Christmas

We’ve had a reluctant autumn, haven’t we! Here where we live, there hasn’t even been a killing frost yet, so petunias and such are still blooming. But interspersed with our many mild autumn days, we have had some cold, rainy ones, too.

Like today: bllgh. It was gray all day, with rain and drizzle off and on. It seemed like I was wearing sunglasses indoors. Tonight, the streets are shiny and wet, and it’s just simply cold. Brrr, shudder-shudder.

And you know how it is this time of year, with the day length; it’s harder and harder to get up in the mornings. And it feels like “suppertime” when it gets dark around four!

Indeed, tonight’s supper was some nice hot chili and cornbread. Yum!

But somehow I’m totally not ready for “the holidays”—how can Thanksgiving be over, when petunias are still blooming? Weren’t we just cutting grass, like, yesterday? Usually we get our first snow around mid-November!

We’re sliding into December, though, and fortunately we have all the Christmas sales and decorations to make it perfectly clear! Here in the Munichburg neighborhood, one of our favorite “signs of the season” is when the local Optimist club sets up its Christmas tree lot at the Carpenters Building, on the corner of Broadway and Dunklin.

It always makes me happy to see them up there, the friendly men and the pretty trees and the strings of bare lightbulbs shining over there at the corner—even though we never buy a tree from them. (But if you buy real Christmas trees, you should consider patronizing them or another nonprofit service organization.)

As you might recall, we never buy a Christmas tree because we have Grandma’s tree to put up. A lot of people around here know about the tree, and they look up in our window to see it as they go by on Broadway. So it kind of feels like a duty to put it up each year.

But it’s a duty that’s a pleasure to perform—even if I don’t feel ready for “Christmas” yet. I think we’ll be putting it up this coming weekend, either the third or the fourth.

By the way, if you’ve read this far, and you or your group are interested in visiting the tree in person, I hope you’ll contact me. Grandma used to love sharing her tree with others, and I see no reason to end that tradition!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Maa Pies and More, Ashland, Missouri

To all my readers in Central Missouri: Here is a small restaurant that I sincerely hope you’ll try. It’s a new place, and you might not have heard of it yet. In fact, it’s the kind of place that my Columbia friends might never hear of, because this is the kind of place that locals flock to and love, and keep “mum” about, in hopes that “outsiders” don’t discover it: Maa Pies and More, in Ashland, Missouri.

Since it’s in Ashland, it’s convenient for everyone traveling between Columbia and Jefferson City. Seriously—if I were still commuting, I would consider getting up early at least one day a week, so I could pull off the highway at Ashland and sit down for a bit over coffee and B&G, before heading to the office.

(Wait, you don’t know what B&G is? Repeat after me, in a reverent tone: bis-cuits–an’–gra-vy. If you’ve never had it, then you need to try some this winter! As my own mom would say, “This is food that sticks to your ribs!”)

Let me tell you what Maa Pies and More isn’t: It’s not a place that is going to serve you “prosciutto-wrapped-sun-dried-tomato-cornichon-with-crème-fraîche-ciabatta,” or “seared-ahi-tuna-and-celery-root-pureé-with-a-balsamic-reduction-and-brown-butter-caper-sauce.” No, no, no!

It is also not a place for you to go if you dislike people, or if you are feeling blue and wish to stay that way.

Here is what it is: A small local “mom-and-pop” café, proudly serving you breakfast, lunch, and desserts (pies!) with care and attention to how you want it. What kind of bread do you want for your sandwich? Do you prefer it grilled? Would you like ice cream on your slice of pie? It’s how mom would treat you if she was making you a lunch—am I right?

“Mom-and-pop” is a perfect adjective for this café, which is owner-operated and owner-staffed: William Linzie, a bighearted man who loves meeting people, will greet you when you come in the door, help you find a seat, and take your order. There’s a good chance he’ll introduce you to some of the other customers. His wife, Joycelynn, who loves cooking and is too modest about her talents, is the one making most of the food (yes, and the pies!). You will probably meet both of them when you’re there. Why, it’s almost like having lunch at a friend’s house.

And by the time you leave, you will most likely be calling them your friends.

I hear that the “locals” are warming up to the place—and here we’re talking about people of all stripes. The Linzies are proud to have such a diverse clientele. As we ate there recently, he was telling me how great it feels to see so many different people enjoying his restaurant.

That Maa Pies has won the approval of many of the local “oldtimers” seems particularly enlightening for those of us who enjoy good local cafés: Some of the older fellows, I imagine, can be tough customers; these men are capable of saying, quite bluntly, “Well, this doesn’t taste very good. Not enough black pepper.” I mean, they’ll say it to their own wives! So if a café doesn’t cut it for these tough customers, they won’t come back.

But they keep coming back to Maa Pies! It’s an excellent sign.

What’s on the Menu?

There’s an online menu here, but I’ll summarize briefly. First, they’ve got breakfast—they open at 8 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday—with the above-mentioned biscuits and gravy, breakfast plates (combinations of eggs, sausage, biscuits, bacon), and breakfast sandwiches. Also (and this is no surprise, since pies are a specialty), they have quiche, yummy, yummy quiche!

The cinnamon rolls (which I haven’t yet tried) look like a breakfast unto themselves; they’re huge and covered, not just “sprinkled,” with a whole bunch of chopped pecans. (Generous is the word: just like mom, right?)

Lunches are sandwiches, hot dogs, wraps, and sides, and Tuesday through Friday, there’s a daily special. The sandwiches are not fancy, high-falutin’ concoctions of trendy ingredients. So just relax and enjoy a gool ol’ turkey sandwich, or bologna, roast beef, BLT, or polish sausage. If you’re feeling opulent, you might choose the triple decker!

The daily special is a surprise—there’s no pattern to it—it’s whatever they felt like making that day. It could be lasagna or any other kind of “blue-platey” special.

If you’re having lunch there for the first time, I encourage you to try the pulled-pork sandwich, which is one of their specialties.

Honestly, their pulled-pork sandwiches count as a Public Service. I expect soon, all the other restaurants in Ashland will be sick and tired of telling people, “Oh, the pulled-pork sandwich place? That’s Maa Pies—just go west on Broadway and look for it on the right. The place with all the cars parked around it.”

Finally, the Pies

As soon as you get there, look in the front case to see what they’ve got, because they tend to sell out! If you are wanting to get a particular pie to-go, put your dibs on it before you dine!

The fruit pies are wonderful; when we were there, we had blackberry, and it was just sweet enough to be perfect! I admire cooks who get the sugar right in a fruit pie.

They heated it up for us and served it à la mode. Oh, boy! I love me some good, homemade pie!

Here’s something else: Joycelynn will make pies for you by request—cream pies, for instance, or whatever kind of pies you want. She just needs your order 48 hours in advance. I understand they do catering of pies for events. As in, lots and lots of pies.

The pie they’re most famous for is called “apple caramel crisp with pecans.” When we were there last, it was (understandably) sold out. As with the cinnamon rolls, they’re generous with the pecans, which give the caramel-drizzled crust a wonderful texture.

If there’s something wrong with you and you’re not interested in pies, there are Bundt cakes available, plus other pastries, such as Danishes, and the cinnamon rolls.

You might be wondering about the prices—some bakeries charge big bucks for their creations—all the pies here are twelve dollars. And everything else on the menu is under ten; most is under five.

One More Thing

Remember what I said: “This is not a place for you to go if you dislike people, or if you are feeling blue and wish to stay that way.” Why do I say this? Because William and Joycelynn really want you to have a nice time at their restaurant, and they want you to feel at home. They will chat with you. William, in particular, likes getting to know his customers, and he’s a friendly and personable guy.

Again, it’s the “mom-and-pop” thing—at Maa Pies, you will be treated not just as a guest, but as a friend and neighbor—indeed, like family. So put Maa Pies on your list for breakfast and lunch, and be sure to check out the pies and pastries, too!

Maa Pies and More on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Frost Is a Coup de Grâce

As usual, we’ve been keeping tabs on our argiopes—our black-and-yellow garden spiders—as the season’s progressed. We’ve had them all summer—two on the corner, among the blades of a yucca, and one in the flowerbed near our front door.

Look, spider-watching really is fun! The orb-weavers stick around all season. You walk past an argiope web every day, and you can’t help but note things like, “oh, look, she’s got a grasshopper!” And you know when one of them has made an egg case, because she disappeared from her web for a whole day and has now returned to it, half as rotund as she was before. Then you find yourself peeking around the nearby vegetation, looking for that hidden egg sac. When you clean out that bed later on, you don’t want to inadvertently pitch that spent vegetation into the composter if it’s got her babies in it!

This past week, the argiope near our front door seems to have given up on her web-making. The winds and rain were simply too much; apparently, she threw in the towel and crept away.

She’s moving slowly; she’s getting skinny.

Over the weekend, she clung precariously to the bricks above our front door, which freaked out my nephew when he was visiting (we all had to walk right under her each time we went in and out of the house).

Do you suppose the argiope just said to herself, “Oh, what the heck! My web-spinning and egg-laying is done! Let’s go out and see some of this great big world that the grasshoppers are always telling me about (right before dinner).

Nah—I know better. She hasn’t given up; quitting isn’t in a spider’s vocabulary. It’s survival; we’ve seen it plenty of times with argiopes. If one web location isn’t good—if it’s too windy, or gets smacked into too much, or doesn’t catch enough bugs—the argiope relocates. I’ll bet that’s what she was trying to do, bless her heart. And anyway, orb-weavers tend to have poor vision; she wasn’t “sight-seeing.”

The next day, we found her just standing, rather still, on the concrete steps leading up to our front door. (I hope she hadn’t fallen . . . I’m glad no one had squished her . . . some people just squish spiders as a matter of course . . .) So we picked her up and put her into the plants in one of our front planters. It’s pretty warm there. And so far, that’s where she’s stayed.

The embers of life go out so slowly with spiders. It’s her time.

I used to get rather sad when the freeze would come and, in a single, late October night, put an end to all the spiders, all the tender plants, all the bugs, all that vibrant summertime life. But now I see: The frost is a coup de grâce.

When it doesn’t come, cold-blooded life gradually grows too cold to continue, anyway. Spiders don’t have enough food, because the insects are dwindling; they can’t spin effective webs, because it’s cold and windy, they cannot move quickly anymore, and they’re beginning to starve. Without a decisive freeze, it can be a long, drawn-out death.

Think about it: All summer long, these insects and spiders have fought hard and survived. Our argiopes have netted and trussed prey, and feasted on it; they’ve scrambled away and hidden from garter snakes and praying mantises; they’ve mated; they’ve laid eggs. They’ve endured this summer’s drought, and they’ve put up with the indignity of being sprinkled with the garden hose.

The great majority of arthropods never make it to autumn; there are a million ways for a bug to expire. The ones that are left at this time of year are the survivors, the winners, the elders—as old as any of their kind ever get. In human terms, they are going to die of “natural causes”—of old age, of senescence, of systems breaking down.

The overnight freeze, when it comes, is a gift from nature that lets them die in their sleep.

I used to think it was rather cruel, how the freeze sneaks in during an autumn night and extinguishes all those amazing little sparks of life, but now I see it’s nature’s kindest way of saying—to the humblest of its creatures: Well done; come home.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Autumn Transitions

I’ve been thinking a lot about the progression of fall this year; I mean, I usually do, anyway, because it’s a dynamic season, intense and dramatic, manic-depressive. But with Teale’s Autumn across America fresh in my mind, I’m more thoughtful about it than usual.

Unlike in springtime, where there’s no clear-cut time when the growing season officially begins, in fall, the first hard frost and freeze slices a distinct boundary between animation and dormancy, juiciness and dryness—the vibrancy of “red autumn” and the dullness of “gray autumn.”

Here in Central Missouri, our average frost date is about the middle of October, which also happens to be our usual fall color peak. A hard freeze can zap the fall color pretty abruptly. Then, the abcission wind comes in late October or early November, often with rain and dreary skies, to knock the leaves off the trees and thus prepare the trees for snow and ice. (Remember the abcission wind? We talked about that last year!)

So much of autumn seems to be about preparation for the winter.

But although we had wind and rain this past week, we still haven’t had a freeze yet, or even a hard frost.

There are many pleasant things about this situation—for example, Sue and I were able to bring in our tropical plants at our leisure. We dug up the elephant ears and hibiscus a few weeks ago, and Sue brought in her bonsai that can’t survive the cold. The Fukien teas and what-all. Some years, we get caught by surprise; we put off bringing in the plants until the last minute, then suddenly they’re predicting a freeze, and we’re out there with our spades, sometimes in the dark or the rain. Which is not quite optimal!

And then there are the brugmansias, which have multiplied over the years like bunnies. Like hibiscus, they must be brought indoors during winter. We’ve found, however, they only really begin to bloom about the beginning of October, so they’re usually in full bloom when we tell them, like moms tell kids on summer evenings: Time to come in!

So we always have to trim back the bruggies so they are, say, not taller than ourselves, which usually means hacking off all the glorious, footlong flowers. And we cart them and their big pots indoors. Into the basement. It’s kind of sad.

This year, Sue couldn’t bear to chop all those blooming heads off, so she set them, pots and all, at an angle. We have sideways trees in our basement! They’re blooming right now, even as I type this on the third floor of our house, and I can smell them all the way up here.

And we swapped the screens for storm windows again. By the way, there were big numbers on the “cussometer” this year—but it’s long story I won’t go into. Here’s a picture from my parents’ collection of my Grandpa and Grandma dealing with the storm windows. It was the early sixties, and judging from their smiles, the storm windows fit better forty years ago!

I also, quite at my leisure, picked all my basil and made pesto the same day I picked it.

Another day, I picked all my cayenne peppers and dealt with them: The smallish green ones went into freezer zip bags—they will heat up my Indian curries this winter! The mature, red ones, I dried: Trimmed off the green calyx on top, sliced them once lengthwise, spread them on a huge cookie sheet, and let them enjoy the dry warmth of Grandma’s incredible oven, all night long. Next morning, I turned them into “dynamite dust.” Lookie!

I didn’t deseed them or remove the “membranes.” (Hey, want a more precise name for that pithy stuff? It’s the placenta, that middle part that the seeds grow on; and the part that connects it to the fruit wall is the septum).

Dynamite dust!
It’s just whole, ground cayenne. None of that sissy stuff for me! Good for what ails ya!

With all these preparations, though, there was no rush; we just found time here and there to get it all accomplished.

And yes, it’s rather pleasant to still have flowers around—chrysanthemums, and all that autumn-purple ageratum that grows around this yard for free. My herb garden’s still going at it; just today, I picked a handful of red-veined sorrel and some mint to go in a little salad at lunch.

. . . So when will it freeze?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Edwin Way Teale’s Autumn across America

Today we’re celebrating another classic work by the famous midcentury natural history writer Edwin Way Teale: Autumn across America: A Naturalist’s Record of a 20,000-Mile Journey through the North American Autumn (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1956).

This is my third “book report” on Edwin Way Teale this year: I decided that in 2011, I would reread all four of Teale’s “American Seasons” books, in their appropriate seasons! To catch up with me, click here for my post on Teale’s North with the Spring (and an introduction to this remarkable quartet of books), and click here for my post on Teale’s Journey into Summer (including a discussion of the timing of the trips and the publication of the books).

The American Seasons Series: Spring and Summer

Each of the four American Seasons volumes chronicles the automobile travels of Edwin Way Teale and his wife, Nellie, as they traverse the continent for months, following the progress of a season in as many places and aspects they can.

In the spring volume (published in 1951 based on travels made in 1947), they rode the wave of the season from the southern tip of Florida all the way up to Maine: one big, long extended springtime of migrating birds and opening wildflowers—and lots more that you never would have noticed—all the way up the coast, ending as spring does with the summer solstice.

The summer book was published in 1960, based on their travels during the summer of 1957. For that project, they started at the summer solstice in New Hampshire, traced the northern edge of the United States clear to Montana, then wandered south through the Great Plains and explored Colorado and its Rockies. Thus they experienced “the summer of the shore, the summer of the forest, the summer of the Great Plains, the summer of the mountains . . . in vacation spots—along lake shores, on the mountain heights, in the cool north woods . . . [as well as] on salt flats and in corn country, amid swamps and in areas where falling rain would be sucked up by the thirsty atmosphere before it reached the ground.”

The Autumn Project

The autumn travels, and publication of the autumn book, actually occurred between the spring and summer projects. Autumn across America was published in 1956, based on travels that occurred in 1952. Their trip began in late August, looking east across the waves of the Atlantic on Cape Cod. Why in August? Teale explains at the beginning of chapter 3:

The season of summer extends to about September 21 but the summer season ends with Labor Day. Then the newspapers begin referring to summer in the past tense. Vacations are over. Schools commence. To the popular mind, September belongs to autumn as December belongs to winter. (p. 19)

Their autumn trip starts out rather like the summer one, for they travel west from New England taking a somewhat northern route, through Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. But here they continue west all the way to the Pacific, visiting Wyoming, Montana (and Yellowstone), Idaho, Utah, Oregon, and Washington.

Then they proceed southward into California, seeing the sequoias, Monterey, the migrating monarchs at Pacific Grove, and Yosemite. They end up on a very windy Point Reyes, north of San Francisco, facing westward across the Pacific, at sunset on the shortest day of the year.

Some Major Themes

Teale was an incredibly organized writer. Each book of the quartet offers about the same blend of topics. In each, there’s a chapter or two spotlighting individuals who make their living from the land, and he marvels at expansive agricultural endeavors, and their picturesque qualities.

And although he’s mostly interested in animals and plants, with chapters spotlighting particular species, he always includes a few chapters focusing on geological matters, on landscapes, on astronomy, and on notable environmental tragedies, or on disasters averted.

But in this volume, more than the others, there are certain subjects Teale weaves through the whole book:

Bird Migration. The Teales were avid birders! It’s no accident that their autumn trip took them across all four major flyways for migration, and Teale writes enthusiastically about the flocks they see. The map in the front endpapers has the four major North American flyways marked on it. Along the Atlantic Coast Flyway, there are “swallow clouds” at Cape May, where bazillions of migrating birds concentrate before crossing the Delaware Bay. The Teales trace the Mississippi Flyway in five states, and see the Central Flyway as they travel through the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana.

At some point, if you’re not really into birding, you either get weary of reading about the birds, or you begin to chuckle affectionately at Teale’s enthusiasm. At the Bear River delta on the Great Salt Lake, they experience their “Million-Duck Day,” where Teale, well, positively gushes at the thousands and thousands and thousands of birds they saw.

He keeps returning to his writerly style but always ends up helplessly gushing once again about the huge flocks: “For us who, among the depleted, overgunned ponds of the populous east, were accustomed to counting our flocks of migrant ducks in dozens and scores, the wonder never diminished in these thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of waterfowl” (p. 194). (Remember, Teale was writing at a time when conservation laws were still rather new.)

And then later, they visit the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (on the Pacific Flyway) and see more zillions of birds: “Wherever we went the roar of waterfowl wings preceded us as mallard and pintail and baldpate and green-winged teal—perhaps some of the very birds we saw at Bear River—shot into the air from behind the curtain of the tule rushes” (p. 316). But the big deal there, that day, for the Teales, was the swarms of blackbirds! (But I’ll let you read about that yourself.)

Tracing the Paths of Explorers. Their route took them west, but they do more than just intersect with the paths of some famous explorers: They trace them. They first join the trail of Lewis and Clark at the juncture of the Knife and Missouri rivers, where, at Fort Mandan, the explorers had met Charbonneau and “his amazing squaw, Sacajawea” (p. 127).

Wait a minute—a note on that loaded term: The word squaw was not a loaded term in standard American English in midcentury. Americans didn’t know it was a deeply offensive term in the Native American language from which it was adopted. As far as any of us knew, it was a Native word for “wife” or for “woman”—same as you might refer to a young French woman as a “mademoiselle,” or a Spanish man as a “señor.” The Russian king was a “czar” and a Muslim sovereign was a “sultan.” I’m pretty sure that nearly all Americans who were not First Nation peoples had no idea that squaw was an offensive term, and Teale was simply using the pleasantly widened vocabulary of an educated man.

So let’s cut him a break, and acknowledge that the word came to have a different meaning in American English than it had in its original language. And, yes, now that we know how offensive it is, let’s please quit using it.

At any rate, it is clear that Teale admired Sacajawea, for he speaks directly about the importance of her contribution to the expedition. He mentions her often and notes places where she has been memorialized in place-names.

And so their path leads them along the Missouri, through the Rockies, all the way to where the Columbia joins the Pacific. Teale quotes from the Lewis and Clark journals, and he notes several plants and animals named for the explorers. He keeps the famous expedition in the reader’s mind as well as his own.


(By the way, this is not the "Lewis and Clark" we've been talking about! --Just a bit of humor to see if you're still paying attention!)


Another explorer whose path the Teales keep intersecting is less well-known, except among biologists: Thomas Nuttall, and his assistant John K. Townsend, traveled the interior of America in the early 1800s not long after Lewis and Clark, botanizing and collecting biological specimens. Nuttall was the curator of the Harvard Botanic Garden, and as a result of his travels, he added “more new species to the lists of science than any other man in America” (p. 28). The Teales follow Nuttall’s path, off and on, from Cape May on the East Coast all the way to Vancouver and to Monterey. And yes, the parts about Nuttall are more fascinating than those about Lewis and Clark.

Autumn Color. Well, of course, Teale had to write about this subject. But perhaps the most surprising thing about Autumn across America is that the Teales, who lived in New York at the time, began their fall trip by promptly leaving New England! Remarkable, since New England is the official place to see a glorious riot of autumn foliage, picturesque white-painted churches, and so on. But the Teales have big plans—they’ve got to get across the continent, and through Rocky Mountain passes, while it’s still “fall.”

Teale gets around this problem by relating the splendor of New England’s fall color from memory! Then, he proceeds to witness and describe all the different colors of autumn, all across America. Autumn looks different in the Dakotas, in the treeless plains, in the Rockies, in the Pacific Northwest, in Northern California, than it does in the entire eastern half of the country.

One chapter focuses on “dusty autumn”—this is the dustiest time of year. (The early fifties, I understand, were drought years throughout much of America.) Though it is the bane of anyone trying to keep a place tidy, atmospheric dust, Teale points out, is what gives us our brilliant sunrises and sunsets, and it is what forms the nuclei of every single raindrop and snowflake: No dust, no clouds, no rain.

In his ruminations about fall color, Teale provides an especially insightful paragraph about the way we “feel” about autumn—how the lower humidity, the crisp air, the generally clear skies, and, especially, the riots of color in the landscape serve to exhilarate and uplift us:

In the forest, fall is the season of light. The aureate leaves, the golden carpet of fallen foliage reflecting rays upward from the ground, these fill the deciduous woodlands with a luminous radiance unknown at other seasons of the year. Henri Amiel noted in his Journal Intime: “The scarlet autumn stands for vigorous activity; the gray autumn for meditative feeling.” Later in the season there would come slaty skies, brown leaves, gray autumn. But now we wandered in the multicolored early days of fall, the time of vigor and elation. (109–10)

I truly appreciate that distinction between “red autumn” and “gray autumn,” for it helps me to conceptualize this Janus-faced season, so intensely colorful at one end and depressingly drab at the other. It’s almost hard to “picture” autumn for this reason. Thanksgiving usually looks very little like Columbus Day! (The dividing line, of course, is usually the Abscission Wind!)

The Pacific Coast.
Of the quartet of books, this is the only one that explores Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, and it’s clear the Teales glory in these travels. About a third of the book focuses on this leg of the trip. (Here's a photo from the book--the Teales are seeing a group of sea otters, which were then just beginning to come back along the Pacific Coast.)

They’re easterners, writing for an audience that viewed the West Coast as a spectacular vacation destination. So if you like places like Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, Monterey Bay, the Redwoods, Mount Ranier, the Olympic Peninsula, tidepooling and skirting the coast all down the length of Oregon . . . you will love where this book goes.

End of the Trip

Teale really wraps it up nicely; their autumn travels began in late August, with them standing on Cape Cod, staring eastward across the Atlantic, watching the tide rise to its fullest point and then start to go out—and they complete their journey facing west across the Pacific, on a windy crag at Point Reyes, watching the tide ebb on Winter’s Eve, the shortest day of the year. (Here is a photo from the book, of the lighthouse at Point Reyes, taken that day.)

They return the next day to watch the hands move on Teale’s wristwatch as the minutes slip away from autumn: “The sun, shining from farthest south in the heavens, ‘stood still’ before beginning its long, slow climb to the zenith of June. One instant it was autumn, the next it was winter. In this moment in the sunshine, between breaths, fall had slipped away” (p. 363).

I have to admit, I got a little choked up as I read aloud the final passages of the book. At some point, you just feel like you’re traveling along with Edwin and Nellie, and when their epic adventure—their incredible, once-in-a-lifetime autumn trip across America—draws to a close, you can’t help but feel a pang.

I don’t know if I mentioned it, but Sue and I have been reading these books together, aloud, in the evenings, or when we have some driving to do. We react to it, comment on it, discuss it. It’s very pleasant to share a book this way, and I heartily recommend it.

So now there’s just one more of Teale’s American Seasons books: Wandering through Winter, based on travels that took place during the winter of 1961–1962, and published in 1965. (That’s the year I was born—how about that! This is also the book where Teale visits Jefferson City!) Wandering through Winter was the book that earned Teale the Pulitzer Prize, when Teale was sixty-six and had some thirty books to his credit.

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve read Wandering through Winter, so stay tuned for the final installment—I’ll probably be blogging about it about three months from now!