“So long, Vermont Autumn,” I said, as we pulled out of town. She’s a persona, a place, and a time. And one of our favorite, yet relatively fleeting, seasons year after year.
Peak foliage in Vermont is short, but oh so sweet. It seems we spend the majority of September waiting with bated breath for any sign of the season to come, for the leaves to lose their cool and earn the prized warmth that only comes with chillier weather. But like most things in life, once it begins, it takes hold quickly; autumn-time must be spent deliberately, with purpose. But the beauty of enjoying any season is that its purpose is up to you. You can spend it bouncing around farms and festivals and all the best leaf-peeping vistas, or you can pick one place, just one chair, blanket, or parking spot, and watch it turn with the same excitement as if you never stopped moving.
For us, it’s a delicate blend. We flutter about the countryside peeping nature’s fireworks while sipping spiced coffee with cider donut crumbs on our fingertips. And just as often, we rest peacefully near a cracking fire under the stars of a clear night sky...or inside under a blanket soaked in the melancholy of an autumn rain.
So when we’re ready for a weekend respite, Dorset, Vermont always fits the bill. It’s the sweet and not-so-sleepy but blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town just north of Manchester, and I’m lucky enough to have traveled there with my family as a child, and now as a wife with my husband. Beautiful old barns that reek of storied pasts, dancing leaves in front of quaint antique farmhouses (decorated for the season, of course), charming general stores, and unassuming endless country roads are just a few of our favorite things.
There is so much to do, but in the fall, particularly, we love a beautiful, crisp, flame-colored hike. Stratton Mountain sits about a half an hour southeast of our home away from home and boasts some of the most wonderful views southern Vermont has to offer. The scenic drive fills us with anticipation — and hunger. We stopped by the Winhall Market for sammies and chips before finishing the drive toward Stratton, the scenery growing more colorful even with just a slight increase in altitude. As soon as we pulled up to the mountain fall-fever went into full swing as we grabbed our cooler and a hat — just in case. It was a half-hike kind of day, though, and that’s when the gondola comes in especially handy. We hopped on and silently basked in the views as we soared to the summit. At the top we took our pick of trails, and thought the quiet side was our cup of tea...or should I say the perfect choice to take our pick of peaceful picnic spots. Meandering in and out of pines and kaleidoscope tree tunnels we were graced with sprawling crimson and pumpkin views under a cloudless sky. Hillsides speckled with mountain lakes and chalets are enchanted by purple mountains’ majesty along the horizon. Crisp air fllled our lungs, warm sun shone on our backs. Full bellies and overfowing souls: this is what it’s all about.
There is no aperitif to a beautiful hike better than a real one by a fire, so we hopped back in the car and drove over the hills and through the long shadows back up to Dorset. A quick stop at our local favorite, Barrow’s House, turned out to be not so quick and we couldn’t have cared less. Spiked apple cider, warming toes, and the snap-crackle-pop of maple will never get old. Especially when it follows a day like this.
Another southern Vermont fall in the books — and for the books.
One of our favorite parts of this particular vacation was the day on the water we spent with Captain Rich and his crew aboard the Schooner Eleanor. Our boys had sailed before, but never in Maine. They were up bright and early that morning eager to see what the ride would be like.