Now that the peepers are leaving. . .

So, we have now pushed the environment to the very edge of the cliff, the worldwide economy is about to go down for the third and final time, and the situation in Afghanistan is so bad that Iraq is starting to look like a success story by comparison. And, of course, rumor has it that Madonna and Guy Ritchie are getting divorced. It’s just not pretty out there.

But here’s the good news: I have now lived in Vermont so long that leaf peepers who are lost stop and ask me for directions. Apparently, I actually look like I know what I’m doing. My mother would have been so proud.

This past peeping season was really extraordinary in my opinion — though my opinion should count for nothing because I am red-green colorblind. For all I know, the maples were blue this October. Nevertheless, over the past two weeks, strangers from Connecticut, New Jersey and North Carolina all wanted me to help them find different gaps and restaurants and (once) “a place for a picnic where we can stoke our fate.” What they had really said, of course, was “a place for a picnic where we can soak our feet.” My hearing isn’t much better than my eyesight. I think they were from Scotland.

Usually the foliage in Lincoln peaks somewhere around the Fourth of July and I find myself directing October peepers to warmer climes such as Bristol and Middlebury and Greenland. Not this year. People grouse about global climate change, but it has meant that our leaves change in Lincoln about the time when the Department of Tourism in Montpelier wants them to. (And who says our government isn’t doing anything?)

It really amazes me how frequently we take this season for granted — how quickly we forget what a spectacularly beautiful corner of the world in which we live. And my sense is that no one who visited us this autumn was disappointed. I’m confident that the fire in our trees (a completely terrifying expression if you’re from Northern California) even took people’s minds off the reality that we have absolutely no retirement income remaining and we’ll all be working at Target when we’re 90.

Now that the leaves have fallen and we don’t need to hang around giving strangers directions until the ski resorts reopen, it’s time to prepare our homes for the winter: Caulking the windows and adding weather-stripping to the doors, for example, and checking the insulation in the attic.

Or we could all go shopping.

Shopping is, apparently, the more patriotic thing to do, but unlike in September 2001 when we were all urged to head for the mall, this time it will demand real sacrifice. Why? We have no money and no credit. Details. As the maxim goes, never do today what you can postpone till tomorrow. Look at Social Security. Not our problem. We’ll leave that one to our children and grandchildren to fix.

And the same goes for our homes. Does it really make a difference if we winterize them now or next week? Nah. It’s only fuel.

Once I was at a dinner party and I was seated beside an engineer for a nuclear power plant. He was very high on nuclear power. Said we needed a lot more of it. I asked him what we should do with all the waste — all those incredibly radioactive spent nuclear rods that were in temporary storage. He shrugged. “The next generation will solve that one. That’s the wonderful thing about science. There is always another generation to find the solution that evades us.”


In the meantime, we can rake our leaves. And shop. And, just maybe, squeeze a little caulk around our windows.


(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on October 19, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

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