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Trip `leaves' something to be desired

In mid-October our family took a trip to New England, the mecca of fall foliage. Joining scores of other pilgrims, we became official "leaf peepers" for five days.

As we sat, stuck for hours in our extremely tiny seats on the airplane, eating the gruesome food and paying the outrageous $5 a pop for the insipid in-flight movie, we talked excitedly about our upcoming stay at an authentic bed & breakfast."It's a farmhouse, and we're staying in the Bette Davis room," I gushed to my husband. "It's probably very dramatic."

We imagined beautiful antiques and anticipated waking up to a sumptuous breakfast after a good night's sleep snuggled under out L.L. Bean down comforters. All this, undoubtedly, in front of a crackling fire.

In Maine it was "peak weekend" according to a few of the locals we met at the general store. Some insisted it was a little pre-peak, and still others argued that maybe peak had passed. Peak or not, we felt privileged to be there at such a time.

It was quite a scene, complete with pick-your-own apple orchards, harvest festivals and craft fairs around every bend. You couldn't go two miles without falling over a roadside pumpkin stand or scarecrow display, giving you the feeling that if you stood still a moment too long someone might come along and stick a hat on your head and a pole up your shirt, drape you with dried corn husks, and set you out in a field somewhere.

Our trip involved several states, each with its own special nuance. In Massachusetts, fall had not progressed as much as up in Maine. To keep things straight - and remember, autumn is no laughing matter up there - the locals divide autumn into three main parts: Early Fall, Mid-Fall and Late Fall. Each part is further divided into early, mid and late, thus giving you a broader vocabulary to work with.

For example, Maine was somewhere around Late Mid, although my husband will argue this point, insisting it was Early Late, while in Massachusetts it was Late Early, or possibly, and I'm giving on this point, Early Mid. Confused? So were we at first, but it all started to make sense after a few glasses of warm apple cider.

My brother-in-law, who is no slouch in the leaf-peeping department, insisted it was Early, or at most Mid-Late. On the other hand our innkeeper, Maude, was absolutely adamant about it being Late Late. She added that even when it was peak, this year the colors were "a little crinkly" for her tastes and that she preferred them "more liquid." We nodded in agreement, not really seeing, but assuming that since she operated an authentic B&B in rural Maine, she would know.

We spent the rest of the trip hoping to spy liquid rather than crinkly color, and in fact, later impressed some fellow peepers with our assessment that "there wasn't enough rain in August - the colors are way too crinkly."

Now, about that B&B. Let's just say it didn't quite live up to the dream. I first sensed something was amiss when my husband entered our room and yelled, "Don't come in yet!" Not a good sign. Seems the Bette Davis room overlooked the meadow where Maude raised her organic lamb. Apparently the screens were less than perfect and there were flies by the dozen.

While the view was superb, the room was about as cozy as a meat locker. "What about the heat?" I asked my husband.

"Forget the heat, what about that smell?" The sheep meadow again. Oh, well, there's always morning, we thought.

Morning brought a fabulous sunrise but not water pressure, making the shower feel like someone was standing over you spitting on your head. Spirits somewhat dampened, and we sought renewal at breakfast.

Cooking turned out not to be Maude's strong suit. Blackened Apple Pancakes were our first warning sign. Those pancakes were definitely Late Late. They looked so bad I pulled what is commonly referred to as an "I Love Lucy," scraping my food into the garbage disposal while Maude was out of the room. My husband, famous for his nondiscriminating palate, agreed that the stuff looked grim but ate it anyway, reporting later that sometimes you really can tell a book by its cover.

The next morning we suffered through another breakfast featuring apples, this time in the form of Apple Crisp, only it wasn't. My son saw it coming and fled the scene, claiming a stomach ache. (When you're 9, you can get away with that.) As my thoughts raced ahead to our impending flight home, which would no doubt feature another dose of chicken shoulder au gratin, I decided that Gandhi was on to something and immediately embarked upon a cleansing fast.

"Bette Davis room, my eye," my husband muttered on the way to the airport.

"It's not called a Warm Bed and Delicious Breakfast, it's just called a Bed and Breakfast, and that's what we got," I said defensively.

"What a dump," my son grumbled. "Next time, can we please stay at a Best Western?"

"That's it! `What a dump!' That was Bette Davis' most favorite line," I shouted, beaming at my deep knowledge of the cinema.

Not exactly beaming, still they were impressed. We agreed that from then on, I could choose what movies to see as long as they could make all the travel arrangements. And no more apples for a while.