A new leaf? Nope. An old one: Why we love fall.

It’s mid-September, that time of the year when the leaves begin their kaleidoscopic transformation in Arizona and tourists from around the world descend upon the state to savor the breathtaking foliage.

This fairy tale was brought to you by “Arizona Highway” magazine, which boasts in its October issue that autumn in Arizona is better than in Vermont. Make no mistake, I like Arizona. I like it a lot, especially the desert stretch of old Route 66 that links Seligman with the California border. Drive it at sunset.

But just because Flagstaff has sumac and aspens doesn’t mean that it offers leaf peepers a New England caliber fall. I asked readers last week what they love most about the Northeast’s phantasmagoric foliage extravaganza, and here is what they shared.

• Vicky Loven: “It’s the smell for sure. It’s the smell of things ending, yet even with your eyes closed you can inhale and bring the colors into your mind. It’s also a time when life around here winds down a notch. Summer folks leave and we rake our yards under crystal blue skies and wonder when the next smell will be that of snow.”

• Kristen McCarthy Farrow: “I grew up in Stowe and one of my favorite memories of foliage season is this. When I was ten years old, two boys I went to school with decided to make some cash while the leaf peepers were in town. They picked up red and yellow leaves, put them in Baggies, and sold them to the tourists on Main Street. I can’t remember what they charged, but it was maybe a dollar a bag. Hilarious!”

• Cherie Tinker: “Fall is for your secret Linus addiction – dragging out your favorite blanket and favorite flannel sheets and favorite pajamas from Vermont.”

• Jude Bond – who happens to be the Early Arts Coordinator for Burlington City Arts – shared a craft project that intrigued me because it’s colorful and involves rubber mallets: “I like to do this project when the first frost is threatening. I pick a variety of flowers the night before. In the classroom I usually work with one or two students at a time since it is very loud and they need supervision so no one gets hurt. We place the flowers blossom down on paper or smooth fabric (old white cotton bed sheets torn into squares work great), place waxed paper on top of them, and hammer away with rubber mallets. I have the kids wear safety goggles for protection from flying flower parts. The force of the hammering releases the pigment and makes a flower print on the paper or fabric. The children love wielding the rubber mallet and seeing the unexpected results of their effort. It’s loud and magical – two things preschoolers love.”

• Don Gale: “I always look forward to spending time in the woods working the sugarbush – repairing and adding lines. There’s the occasional chipmunk rummaging through the leaves. There are turkeys, ravens, deer, and even seldom seen moose and bears. The winds hint at the approaching winter. It’s peaceful. I feel closer to what life is all about – and God.”

• MaryLou DeCosta – bringing us back to the aroma of autumn: “When I was in the Army in 1979, I was at Fort Hood Texas for my first ever autumn away from New England. I was really missing the sight, sound, and smell of autumn. I received a large box in the mail, and went back to my room in the barracks to open it. Imagine opening a box of autumn in Texas. My father had gathered an entire box full of colored leaves and mailed them to me. As I was marveling over the wonder of it all, there was a knock at my door. When I answered, the young man standing there said, ‘This is going to sound crazy, but as I passed your door, I smelled autumn.’ I brought out the box and shared my New England Autumn in Texas with him. It was a magical day, thanks to my father.”

Now, Arizona has its scents, craft projects, and Proustian madeleines in the autumn, too. But Vermont remains the gold – and red and orange and purple – standard.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on September 15, 2013. Chris’s new novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” was published in July.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

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