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Autumn is my emotional season. I could credit the environment with human passions, but I dislike anthropomorphism toward nature as much as I detest when the habit lumbers us with thinking dogs and talking mice. This isn’t to say the fall season lacks emotion-provoking elements. It does. What sort of person could fail to detect at least a trace of some feeling in a hillside swept from deep woods green one week to aspen gold or maple flame red the next? And aren’t there novel-sized lessons relating to the human condition in the known fact that the gold and flame hillsides will be stripped to bare branches with a stiff overnight wind, and stay dormant and gaunt like dead things until revived at the late end of spring, with a show of delicate newborn green so fragile it looks like a pastel incapable of withstanding a single raindrop, much less an entire summer of gale, downpour, and strong bleaching sun.
The change of seasons is an amazing and emotional thing to watch. By blind luck, the only kind that has ever seemed to inhabit my frame, I was coaxed into taking the gondola at Lutsen to view the colors. In truth, the request came a few days after the peak. I was tempted to say no. After all, why bother with post-peak colors? If you’ve missed the best, won’t second or third down seem awfully sorry? Good old dumb luck saved me—with a “What the hell, why not?” I went.
I’ll say this before I get to the meat of the experience: it is hell being a tourist—or, as we say to be less prejudicial, a visitor. We’ve come to favor visitor because in a resort area like the shore, tourist has become synonymous with pathetic. Visitor will get there, but it will take a generation or more before stupid becomes attached to visitor as dumb is to tourist. The dumb tourist is the fare of local humor and takes the place of the Polack (or if you’re from Canada, the Newfie).
Eye-rolling disdain for tourists isn’t entirely unwarranted. Someone in Missouri or Florida must give classes in how to dress ridiculously for the north woods. My all-time favorite was a gal wearing a fuzzy purple serape with an equally attention-getting sombrero she could have rented out as a table shade at an outdoor bistro. There was gusty wind coming off Lake Superior the day I saw her. My, it was interesting. She’d clutch the paragliding hat only to have two yards of fuzzy purple come up and clump her in the face. There’s a lesson to be learned when the fashionable outfit that looks great on a Niemen Marcus display faces the test of the Great Outdoors. I suspect, however, her guise would have been perfect for keeping the flesh-eating moose away. Even the most ravenous of those beasts would either take pity on the purple laughingstock or have too much integrity to pursue game in grape-colored attire.
The visitor/tourist has no trouble stepping out of their car in a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops. They feel fine about it as they stand in line and happily crowd into their gondola. It’s a different story atop the hill where winds blow without restraint. Flip-flops are not particularly suited to hiking over roots and boulders on the scenic trail, despite the value to onlookers of slip-stumble-and-fall as comic relief as they shiver in short sleeves against the gale.
I wasn’t dressed for a stroll along a paved Miami oceanfront street, so I was fine, able to enjoy without shivering the experience of the visitors, who fairly ignore the autumn colors because their minds are full of one thing. There are sweatshirts (overpriced to be sure, but management knows its target) in the gift shop. The smart thing would have been to buy the warm cover beforehand, but they’ll get there eventually and call it a souvenir. Late is not always better than never, unless there’s need to wear a Lake Superior sweatshirt in the Keys. Probably not, but their impulse purchases are good for our economy and do help to more evenly distribute Asian textiles among the travelling class. Much as I enjoyed the shivering and nervous antics of the visitors, the real treat was observing the result of sticking your camera as far out of the gondola as possible for a great shot at the moment the stopped car suddenly lurched. I doubt the camera will ever be found.
To top off the day, we ate outdoors in the sun while the visitors sought warmth in alcohol and staying indoors with hands held close to the table candle. I asked our waitress. She said it usually took two martinis to warm a tourist. That would about do it. If you’re going to dress stupidly, you may as well addle your wits sufficiently to complete the ensemble. It’s only right.
There is something eternal in the autumn elements of nature. Same is true for visitors coming and changing with the seasons, eager in the spring like geese going north and jittery in autumn like the startled flocks of snowbirds that flit up along the roadside. Colors in nature are matched hue and shade in the varieties of visitor disposition and type. Why anyone with a weak heart and a fear of heights would decide on a gondola ride is beyond me, but it was effective in shutting the whole operation down for a while, and near about required calling the paramedics and maybe a helicopter if we wanted the full drama and a bunch of manmade currents to battle with nature’s winds. A chopper would have been a fine addition. I wonder how a purple serape would behave in chopper updrafts. I’ll never know because the weak heart got settled with little fuss. The gondola crew knew what to do. They’d dealt with tourists before.