By Merisa Sherman
As we topped out, I could see the mountains spread majestically before me, layers of ridge lines fading to an almost blueish gray in the distance. The once green landscape was now filled with a myriad of colors, vibrant reds, stunning yellows, contrasting browns and the always present sections of dark pine green. The narrow dirt path we had arrived on lay in stark contrast to this living, breathing forest. So many variations of trees surrounding us, exposing a diversity that is often hidden to the unseeing eye through the spring and summer. But as autumn begins, we gaze out across the valley, and can see easily the depth of beauty around us.
For inexplicable reasons, each foliage season is uniquely different from all those that have gone before. Yes, the maples still turn red — but we always wonder if they will explosively pop like last year, or be more muted like the year before. As this is 2020, a deep down part of me wondered if the leaves would change at all. Perhaps they were just going to turn brown overnight and then fall off the trees with no fanfare or glory. Were we going to miss the joy of the candy apple foliage, a leaf that hadn’t quite finished its turn — a delicious looking green and red combination that makes one of my friends stop dead in her tracks every time. I felt, after the stunning quality of last year’s foliage, that I had practically given up.
But oh the joy of that first hike this past week, as we walked through the woods underneath a yellowing canopy. As the canopy lightened, so did our spirits as we wound our way around the mountain to the rocky summit. You could see the sky beginning to peek through the branches and the light began to flicker on the trail, breaking through the darkness. Our steps became lighter and our souls lifted just a bit, even as the trail got steeper. Stone and root steps increasingly littered with leaves guided our way up the mountain and we would stop at a waterfall which was somehow still flowing in this drought and just bask in the beauty of it all.
In a year where everything seems to be going wrong, this week was the most normalizing, beautiful thing I have seen. After six months of hardships and heartbreak, this week left me feeling hopeful and full of love. I could not get enough. Each morning, I grabbed a homemade cranberry orange scone (because obviously, it is 2020 and we have been making floury treats from our sourdough starter named Clover) and drove out to meet girlfriends at a different trailhead each day. Spaced out on the trail and at the summit, we would chat like we always had, fitting in phrases between the heavy breathing. Except for those rare moments when we would bump into someone on the trail, it felt …. normal.
Normal. What a strange concept in 2020.
To chat with girlfriends on a hike, watching the leaves change color as we laugh and share our deepest secrets. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the warmth of a girlfriend’s reassuring advice, or how a little female empathy could lighten my heart just by sharing my burden. Their strength became my strength, as I watched with amazement as my friend carried her 3-year-old son in a backpack up the Stone Steps. One was marking her 50th birthday by summiting a new mountain every day this week while another was taking her first hike of the pandemic and their exploratory delight became mine. We were able to share our hopes and dreams, simple things that would have barely been noticed last year but are now so integral to our very being.
This past week has filled my soul with nothing but gratitude, both for the gift of foliage that Mother Nature gives to Vermont each year but also for my beloved Green Mountain Sisters. To those women who may not have been born here, but can feel the very essence of these gorgeous mountains in their souls. A calling to live IN nature, rather than simply look from a distance. I am so grateful for this year’s foliage to remind me of my connection with these mountains, these trees and rocks, and their constant story of change and fortitude. Thank you, Mother Nature, for this simple, glorious gift of hope and renewal each autumn. May we be worthy.