My mom left a small-box surprise on my desk one afternoon my seventh grade year. Inside was an ivory piano key, hand-painted with a scene of fall foliage, mounted on a stand-up picture frame. A gift store find, Mom got it for me because she thought I’d like the piano key.
That the miniature oil painting depicted my idea of fall was a bonus. I don’t think she knew how much, even then, I fantasized about real autumnal colors from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and other childhood favorites. Fall weather, I concluded, should be cool and crisp as befits pumpkin displays, sweaters, and glowing fireplaces, not the Southern Californian version with 90°+ temperatures, desert Santa Ana winds, and wildfire alerts.
So I was delighted a couple of years ago when Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs announced it would host the October 2011 conference for graduate liberal studies program directors. I rested up carefully last week to be able to make the trip as I planned – I was not going to miss my first chance to experience upstate New York at the height of fall colors, chemo schedule notwithstanding.
A change in my board meeting time truncated what I allotted as a full day in Palmyra into a whirlwind early morning. Not exactly a contemplative pace, but amazingly, I was spared the company of tourist busloads. From this bench in the Sacred Grove, I got to ponder in solitude the significance of what took place at the various historic sites. Re-reading Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling is on my to-do list, now that I’ve made it to both Palmyra and Nauvoo this year.
Walking through the Saratoga Springs forests surrounding the Gideon Putnam Hotel in light rain made for the most pleasant way to end one of the conference days. When many female colleagues hit the famous mineral spring spa Friday afternoon, I ventured out to the historic Congress Park, which bears the tell-tale hand of my landscape design hero, Frederick Law Olmsted, creator of New York’s Central Park. Despite making a board presentation, conducting a workshop, and giving a business meeting report, this trip seemed delightfully vacation-like, and I was fine until flight delays derailed my trip home.
My little piano key painting did not set me up for disappointment. Rather, it offered me a romantic promise all these years, now fulfilled. Even so, as I look at it now, it beckons me to return for more “real” fall experiences, with enduring hope that I shall.