Fall visits to summer places
People flock to Maine during the summer, which is why the state describes itself as vacationland on license plates.
During July and August, the beaches and coastal restaurants are full of visitors and summer guests, and there’s a busy, energetic vibe almost every place you go. But come Labor Day, almost all of these people clear out. I’ve gotten caught in this mass exodus a few times driving back to Albany from my parents’ house — trapped in standstill, bumper-to-bumper traffic, an already-long drive getting even longer, my patience wearing increasingly thin.
As nice as Maine is during the summer, I like it even better during the fall, when the weather is still fairly pleasant and the tourists have vacated the scene.
I spent part of last weekend in Maine, hanging out at my parents’ house.
We crammed a lot into 24 hours, eating lobster for dinner and steamed clams for lunch, and spending several hours at the beach.
There were no lifeguards and the surfboard restrictions of summer had been lifted, giving wetsuit-clad surfers the run of the place. The beach wasn’t crowded, though plenty of people were sitting in chairs and on towels, basking in the surprisingly warm sun and clear, brilliantly blue sky. Most impressive of all were the waves, which crested and crashed with a ferocity I hadn’t seen in quite some time.
I watched the waves for a while, walked down the beach and finally got up the nerve to go for an end-of-season swim. My father and I started shivering as soon as our feet touched the chilly water, and we slowly inched our way deeper and deeper into the surf. Cold as it was, it was definitely not the coldest water I’ve ever experienced and, bracing for the pain and shock of submersion, I dove in.
We hopped around in the frigid water, hoping for waves suitable for body surfing. None were forthcoming and we were constantly diving underwater to avoid the giant waves threatening to crash on our heads. Eventually I decided to admit defeat and get out. The ocean is a whole different beast in autumn — more powerful, aloof and, at times, downright frightening.
From Maine I went to New Hampshire to visit my sister Rebecca, niece Kenzie and brother-in-law Tom, and was delighted to find that the transition to fall was even more visible than on the coast of Maine. Growing up, I’d always mocked the leaf peepers — the hordes of tourists who descend upon New England in fall to look at the pretty leaves — but perhaps they were on to something.
The changing foliage really was impressive, adding a welcome dash of fiery color to the state’s Lakes Region, which encompasses New Hampshire’s largest lake, Lake Winnepesaukee, a number of smaller lakes and the Belknap mountain range.
As I drove around, I found myself gazing wistfully at the scenery, wishing I could live in such a beautiful place. Of course, I used to spend my summers in the Lakes Region working at camp, but it was only after I graduated from college and went off to work in an office that I realized how lucky I was.
Kenzie had grown quite a bit since I saw her last, in July, and in many ways she seemed like a totally different baby. She now sleeps in her own room and has even started sleeping through the night, and her worried frowns have been replaced by cheerful smiles. She smiles at just about anyone, in fact. When I smiled at her, she smiled back. What more do you want from a baby? And she looks like an elf.
Kenzie is only four months old, but she likes being outside and Rebecca and I decided to take her on her first hike, up a small mountain called Mount Major. We weren’t sure how Kenzie would do, but agreed that if she was fussy, we would just turn around. But Kenzie did great. Her eyes were wide open the whole way up, and when we reached the rocky, open summit, with its panoramic view of land, mountains and waters, a group of hikers waved to her and cooed.
“How many hikes has the baby been on?” they asked.
“This is her first,” we replied.
Like Kenzie, I had never hiked Mount Major before, and I was quite pleased with what I saw. While I was sitting on the rock and enjoying the view, a couple from Syracuse asked me to take their picture and I agreed, happily snapping a few photographs with a smartphone. They were obviously tourists — the difficulty of the hike (which really isn’t that difficult) had taken them by surprise, and they were eager to find an easier alternative route down the mountain.
“Where are you from?” the tourists asked.
“Albany,” I said.
And that’s when it hit me.
I, too, am a tourist!
I identify myself as a New Hampshire native, but I haven’t lived there in years. In fact, I’ve now spent about half my life living places other than New Hampshire. For all intents and purposes, I am from upstate New York. I can make fun of the leaf peepers and coastal tourists all I want, but I’m one of them, and my rationale for traveling to New England in the fall is the same as any other tourist’s: I want to see the leaves and the mountains and the lakes.
Of course, my little niece is also a big draw.
In her own way, she inspires just as much awe as Mount Major.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at email@example.com.