Standing in Riverside Park looking across Lake Flower, I feel a sense of ease; there’s less traffic driving by, less of a sense of urgency to my morning. A lone kayaker paddles in front of our skyline: not towering buildings, but a vast expanse of tree-covered mountains. Numerous people find their way to Saranac Lake in the late summer and early fall for peak foliage, hoping to catch sight of the fleeting yellows, oranges, and reds that show themselves as the days start to get shorter and the trees start preparing for rest - but what happens after peak leaf season?
While town is bustling in the summer and early fall, things slow down after Indigenous Peoples’ Day and, whether visitor or local, people who are here in the shoulder season know that this can be the most beautiful time of year. The vibe is beautiful: shorter lines to get your coffee, less traffic in town, neighbors taking the time to catch up (from a safe, responsible distance, of course). The weather is beautiful: cooler temps offer the perfect occasion to wear all those cute sweaters that have been hiding in the back of the closet, ideal hiking temperatures will keep you from sweating profusely the entire time (probably), few-to-no bugs. The view is beautiful: early morning mist hanging over the lakes and ponds, birds migrating overhead, and those trees - the ones that lost all their vibrant leaves? Those are beautiful, too. Reaching up to the sky as if offering a prayer, those exposed limbs are a visual reminder that shoulder season in the Adirondacks can be a beautiful and healing time.
Shoulder season may be a set time (in as much as time is real) but it is also a feeling. When you step outside this time of year you can tell things are changing - not only with your eyes, but with all the senses. The leaves on the ground accumulate and start to decay - producing a smell unique to the Adirondacks. It’s fresh and also musty. A rich scent that seeps into your bones and fills you with a sense of calm. And then those leaves dry and crisp and you can hear and feel them crunch under your soles as you walk through town. A satisfying sensation that only happens here and now. I’ve lived in places without seasons - the high deserts in Utah and Wyoming where conifers reign and evergreens live up to their names, keeping a constant color all year - and it always felt like life was paused. Stagnant. Sure, there were days when I would wake up to a few inches of snow on the ground but it never felt like anything was changing. Abscission is the natural detachment of parts of a plant, showing us that losing parts is innate - essential even. In order to grow, trees must first give up parts of themselves. And they come out on the other side, healthier and brimming with life. So too does Saranac Lake let go of the busy summer season to welcome in an occasion of growth. Residents take time for each other and the community. Businesses take a moment to breathe and process, then come up with new ideas for next year. From the loss of the swell of the summer comes a new wave of thoughts, ideas, and feelings, like a phoenix that rises out of detritus.
So with summer ended and fall thoroughly in place, I challenge you to visit Saranac Lake so you can lose something. Maybe it’s a grudge that you’ve held onto for some time. Maybe it’s the stress of living in a global pandemic. Maybe it’s just a stash of trail trash that you keep forgetting about in the side pocket of your backpack. People have been coming to the area to heal and grow for over a century, and now is the perfect time to channel your inner tree - and grow-by-losing - in the beautiful shoulder season.