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Virtual Walks New England

Oxfordshire Mind’s Physical Activity Team are offering a weekly ‘virtual walk’, this week the team are visiting the forests of New England.

(For an added visual for your virtual walk, you can see the webcams I talk about here: https://www.tripsavvy.com/fall-foliage-web-cams-1598728)

Hello everyone.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved autumn.  I don’t know why.  There’s something very special for me about this season of crisp, chilly mornings, changing colours and migrating wildlife. There are so many associations I have with it:  the smell of new schoolbooks, warming my hands on steaming cups of tea, pulling my biggest, cosiest jumpers out of their summer storage. It’s a time of transitions and new beginnings, where things are never quite the same each time you look at them. So this week I thought we’d visit somewhere where we can appreciate the changing of the season to the fullest – the forests of New England. 

The autumn colours in New England are famous the world over, drawing crowds of tourists each year. ‘Leaf-peeping’ as it is rather charmingly called, is a serious business; there are online maps tracking the latest hotspots of leaf colour and webcams where you can see for yourself what the scenery is like in a particular area before you commit yourself to a road trip.  Trust that I have consulted all of these sources today before taking you to our destination; a sleepy corner of New Hampshire where the woods are currently set alight with colour. Come with me on a very special walk that will sample all that autumn has to offer- though, given that we are in the States, I suppose we must call it fall

We are starting our journey in a picturesque little village on the shores of a lake. We take one last look back at the white clapboard church, nestling in its thick blanket of forest, as we stroll out of town.   We have come just at the right moment to see these woods in their full glory. Hickory and dogwood, maple and sumac, sassafras and red oak; each of them add their own unique colour to the patchwork of blazing yellows, reds and oranges. You could stand here for a long while simply finding names for all the different shades you can see-  cinnamon, ochre, gold, bronze, copper, deep purplish crimson- but there is so much more to admire further along the path, so I suppose we must keep moving.

“What is it about the sunlight at this time of year? There’s always just the tiniest touch of gold to it, as if it were ever so slightly sepia-toned. “

We’re following the path that weaves through the woods along the lakeshore. It’s sunny, but bitingly cold today- even though our chins are buried deep into our scarves, the crisp autumn air is already beginning to turn our cheeks rosy. What is it about the sunlight at this time of year? There’s always just the tiniest touch of gold to it, as if it were ever so slightly sepia-toned. Maybe that’s why autumn always feels so nostalgic, as if you’re walking through a memory even while you’re living it. 

Up ahead is one of the famous covered bridges that are scattered through the countryside in New England. It looks like a barn on stilts, cutting across a torrent that flows into the lake. The wooden planks creak beneath our feet as we walk through it, mixing with the burbling of the water under the bridge. 

Over the bridge, we find ourselves in the forest proper.  The path stretches away in front of us, bathed in golden light. The sun filtering through the leaves makes them seem almost translucent, like tiny panes of stained glass. There’s a sudden gust of wind, and a few leaves are shaken loose from the branches, drifting down slowly towards the forest floor. One lands on the crown of your head. You pick it up, holding it up to the light. It’s a maple, star-shaped, yellow at the centre, deepening to darker orange at the tips. You pause for a moment to admire the fine network of veins that criss-cross its delicate skin, before slipping it into the pocket of your coat as a souvenir for later.

There are drifts of similar leaves littering the side of the trail, looking so tempting in their pillowy piles of orange and gold. Do you remember how, when you were a child, you used to kick through piles of leaves? You would start slow, at first, but soon you’d find yourself sprinting, leaves flying all around you, scattering like sparks from a bonfire. Finally you’d come to a halt, a little breathless but still giggling from the sheer silliness of it all. But at some point in the growing-up process it became unacceptable to show such unadulterated joy in public, and so for most of us it’s been years since we dared to do it.  Well, I’m not telling what to do or anything, but the rest of the group’s backs are all turned, and we’re walking far enough behind that no one would ever see. I’ll leave it up to you. 

Squirrels are everywhere as we continue our stroll, running up and down tree trunks, racing along the branches, darting around their roots. They’re gathering food to store for the winter, and occasionally you’ll see one of them carrying an acorn or some other nut in its mouth.  They look so proud of their discoveries that it’s impossible not to smile when you see one.

Several times, we look up to spot v-shaped flocks of geese flying overhead. Do you know what the proper word for a group of geese in flight is? A skein. Doesn’t that sound lovely? A skein of geese.  A ball of wool is also a skein, and perhaps that’s where the word comes from, from the way the geese string out and then clump back together again, always joined together as if by an invisible thread.

Finally the path loops back round into town. We’ll finish our walk in the local coffee shop, The Witch’s Brew, so called because of a local legend about a coven of witches who used to live in the area. It doesn’t feel particularly spooky though, with its gaily painted sign, stack of pumpkins outside the door, and little silvery bell which tinkles as we enter. A nice hot cup of coffee and one of their maple scones will be just the thing after coming in from the cold. I hope you’ve enjoyed our walk this week- and see you next week for another walk.