The first full weekend of fall presented itself like an executive summary of summer. Temperatures dropped politely, indicating another regime was in place, then climbed a bit so we could get used to the new world order in short sleeves. In the garden, the last of the summer flowers have given up all interest in social affairs, with the exception of several dozen pink roses, who were contrary in the summer heat. The last of the tomatoes are coming off the vines and my salads will be be in mourning until next July.
The garden is in transition now.
Fall flowers are but an RSVP, despite the roses. Still there is color. The butterfly bush is a mad scramble of purplish flowers that little white butterflies find intoxicating today. The last of the monarch butterflies turned up today, except for one that Stiffie (Leslie) found on the mulch. Leslie (Stiffie) and I had our first intimate conversation of the new season in the garden yesterday. With the withering of the summer growth, you can see under the bushes in places, and Stiffie (Leslie) has discovered where I have been tossing my expired cigars.
“Have you been throwing your cigar butts behind those peonies?” she asked.
“Atticus has,” I said, using a well-known orator’s trick for surprise to derail an unpleasant topic.
“Atticus does not smoke maduro’s,” Leslie said.
“Not all of your influence is positive,” I hissed.Atticus is a huge, smart German shepherd, who to prove a point, just got his learner’s permit.
Women find just enough good in me to think that I can be converted into something useful. Stiffie has reached the point where she is beginning to wonder, however. From time to time I have to throw her a curve ball to make her think twice about moving my stuff into the driveway. So every now and again, I suggest something in the way of an “art drive.” This is where we jump in her convertible, and I drive while she looks for scenarios that may lend themselves to artistic evaluation, exploration, or acquisition. Sometimes we find all three. Leslie has developed a fascination for cemetery sculptures -- particularly angels, standing atop crypts or pedestals. We found a nice one in the cemetery adjacent to Huff’s Church, in the village of the same name. She took pictures for a bit and wandered around, while I studied her in the field, always amazed at what she finds amazing.As I said in the beginning, the first full weekend of the fall arrived like an executive summary of the summer, and we put the top down on Stiffie’s car and headed out in search of art. Our first stop was a little cemetery for a church that had a hard time finding members in 1915. Some of the most recent graves were filled the year before I was born. Leslie found a statue of a saint, or a religious individual at least, standing atop the resting place of someone who must have been good, as the face on the statue seemed pleasant, and not disposed to lecturing.She also found a mausoleum with a great stained glass window in it, and copper doors.Yet Stiffie had a definite look of surprise as I headed north again with purpose or a good impersonation thereof, while the sun was definitely headed to the horizon.“Do you have a destination in mind?” she asked. The unspoken half of this question is, “Or do you intend to drive around aimlessly hoping something of interest will spring up that you can take credit for?
As a matter of fact, I did. This is not always the case. There are many times when I could drive for hours just pleased to be out. But this wasn’t one of them. Our road had left the valley and wound up to the shoulder of a ridge that appears to run for miles. Forty minutes of dried corn fields, neat pumpkin stands, and herds of contented cows later, the gravel driveway of the Blue Mountain Summit Bed and Breakfast, Restaurant and Bar crunched under the wheels. This quaint place is located where the Appalachian trail crosses Rt. 309 in Pennsylvania.
Stiffie paused in the parking lot, mesmerized by an apple tree and a crab apple tree that had mingled their branches, so that it appeared to be one tree with two kinds of fruit.“What do you think of that?” she asked.
I had to think about this for a minute. With Leslie, you can never tell if these inquiries mask a trick question or an I.Q. test.
“I think these are the sort of trees that could conceive a murder/suicide pact,” I said. This was the wrong answer, apparently.
The taproom of the Blue Mountain Summit Restaurant, B&B, is dark, cool, and soothing. I do not think it is a coincidence that great bars and timeless cathedrals share a similar atmosphere. Leslie opted to sit outside, which was the right answer.
“Outside” presented us with a garden (also in transition) an outdoor bar, and some 40 people waiting for the band -- Lizard Creek -- to start tuning up. Stiffie brightened perceptibly. Some in the crowd were wearing berets and do-rags. There were a couple of hikers in from the Appalachian trail. There were kids. And most of the guys were in their muscular 30’s or early 40’s, with the aura one finds in the ancestors of pioneers.The band cranked up and played Celtic music designed to warm the heart and light the fuse of the average Finian. I found the music to be lively and uplifting . . . “And much better than most of the bands we heard in Ireland,” said Stiff.
The kitchen did justice to dinner. And it was during the main course that Stiff called my attention to a couple of hikers sitting up close to the band.“Look,” said Stiff. “She’s writing in her journal.” The woman, a wholesome blond, seemed to be writing away at something. A short time later, Stiff said, “Now look... She’s painting a picture in it.” And not long after that, Stiff noted the hiker late was photographing her work.
“Why don’t you mosey over there and introduce yourself to her,” I suggested.
Stiffie was aghast at the idea. “Suppose she doesn’t want to show me her work or talk about it.”
“Then why would she be doing it in front of 40 strangers,” I reasoned. “I’ll go and introduce myself.”
Leslie went back to the car to get her camera. On the way back, she stopped to photograph the apple trees. I sent the waitress down to the hikers with a round of drinks. When Stiff returned, they were sitting at our table.The blonde lady was Rachael Sorenson, a watercolor artist from Minnesota, hiking the trail from Lake Tiorati in Harriman, N.Y. to Port Clinton, Pa., a damn good stretch of a walk. Her hiking name is “Roadster.” Roadster would be completing her 2,174-mile trek of the trail with this stint.The wiry guy was Tim Fullam, a chiropractor from North Carolina. He hiked down from Tuxedo Park, N.Y. Another poke. His hiking moniker is “Tobias.” They were unrelated and had just hit this place at the same time. I introduced Leslie, and explained her hiking name was “Stiffie,” while I was known as the Lindbergh Baby.Rachael wasn’t writing in a diary at all, but painting a picture of the band. Stiff bought it.
It was still daylight when dinner was served. But the shadows crept out from the trees and had connected most of the dots when we said our good-byes. We left as the band wound down and the sparks of a great bonfire shot up. The first full weekend of fall had presented itself like an executive summary of summer . . . A summary that included angels, images of stained glass, trees joined in purpose, hikers, music and artists.There was a time when Stiffie would have looked at me and thought I had planned the whole thing. She knows better now. But I don’t mind being admired as the master of coincidence.
October 2, 2007