Autumn walk

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(HOST) A walk on a cloudy early-fall day can be a treat, says commentator Ruth Page, with much beauty in small roadside blooms.

(PAGE) Never have I seen our lovely Vermont purple clover plants as boisterous as they are this year. The warm summer and spaced-out rains must have pleased them. Their leaves are bigger than usual, their heads are lovely pinky-purple globes, and they’re truly decorative on the roadside.

Of course they have help. A recent walk along Bostwick Road in Shelburne was an early-autumn treat, even on a very cloudy day. There were still some Queen Anne’s laces, though smaller than their earlier siblings, and some clumps of gorgeous, tiny, sun-yellow bird’s foot trefoil.

Fall’s usual panoply of yellow and purple are all here. There are handsome lavender asters, some little blooms like tiny daisies, occasional tall chicory stems with their purple fringe-flowers, some hard-to-identify, tiny, low-growing plants with small white or yellow flowers, and here and there tallish seed-stalks of plantain. They stand stiff and straight, like so many sergeants keeping the lesser plants in line. They remind me of hearing when I was young that plantain leaves, crushed and rubbed on a scratch, can promote healing.

The lake lies still as I walk toward it, glistening like shiny pewter, with the mist-veiled Adirondacks standing pale bluish-green on the other side. Overhead flies a very large arrow of Canada geese determinedly headed Northeast. Their honking grabs the attention, but I’ve never fathomed their insistence on starting northward in the fall, and I’ve often seen them do it.

The fat pines and spruces on the hillsides look inviting enough to hug, and the big field of grapevines beyond them provides a fine harvest for wine-making each year.

Further along is the turn-off to Shelburne orchards, the trees heavy with fruit in various combinations of red and green. Those early apples, barely ripe, make luscious, tart, pink apple-sauce for the family freezer – and are superb for pie.

Bikers ride by cheery and smiling, calling out “have fun!” or “great day to walk!” – and even the people in cars and trucks often wave. Vehicles pass with canoes or kayaks on their roofs, heading for a nearby stream on which to escape their cares this Columbus Day. At least here, kayaks appear to outnumber canoes, as they certainly did not when I was young.

Maple trees create the only sad note. Maple leaves have been imprinted by many large, black spots, so they look hideous. A call to the County Forester assures me I needn’t panic. He says the fungus is called parstop and has historically not been a major threat. It comes late in the season, when trees are preparing to shut down. It usually affects Norway maples but can affect sugar maples, though it isn’t likely to kill them.

This is Ruth Page, greatly relieved.

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