We are, once again, honored to feature guest blogger Maggie Matson. In this week’s post, Maggie talks about the changing seasons, and gives some great tips on how to embrace this colorful time of year.
Today, on the college campus where I work, I noticed the first sign of fall: a hint of red, orange, and yellow on the very tips of the trees. Though the sub-60 degree morning should have been my first hint, the changing leaves did it for me. Immediately, two simultaneous reactions were triggered: 1. “Aww, fall! I love fall! IT’S APPLE CIDER SEASON!” and 2. a quick shortness of breath as I quickly considered my professional obligations to come, dubbed “admissions travel season.” With the former, recollections of meeting my best friends on these same grounds eight years ago, as a shaky first-year, have the nostalgic glow of a Hallmark card. With the latter, visions of my Google Calendar, color-coded and cultivated to perfection and quick recollections of confirmation emails and college fair schedules evoke a quick “I should double-check my trip planned this week.”
Professionally, I measure the fall season in high school visits, conversations with seniors interested in the college, and an increasingly heavier jacket as I walk in and out of college fairs in cooler temperatures. It all begins with Move-In Day on campus, the Saturday before Labor Day when hundreds of first-year students arrive to begin their lives at this residential, liberal arts college. My colleagues and I enjoy meeting up with students and parents whom we’ve gotten to know quite well over the previous months (and sometimes years). It’s a culmination of the previous year’s seasons: travel, application reading, and yielding. It’s also a quiet reminder that our job never really ends — as we usher in the new class, we have already started to meet the students who will eventually schlep their boxes of clothes, books, and trinkets into their first-year dorms the following September. My job rotates from season to season at a pretty good clip, and as such, it can be easy to miss. So, as I prepare for my first trip of the season, I reflect on past years and reasons why this time of year truly is remarkable.
1). Apple orchards. Thank you, Minnesota, for introducing the novelty of picking your own apples in an endless field of apple trees. As a Wyomingite, apple trees exist, but not in rows of thousands and not around every corner. Do you want a heart-wrenchingly adorable display of frolicking children and picturesque scenery? Pack up the minivan and head to one of Minnesota’s finest. Personally, I’m partial to AppleWood Orchard and Fireside Orchard, both located in southern Minnesota. There is something refreshing and light-hearted about picking your own apples, walking in rows of trees, and even maybe trying the apple donuts or admiring the great pumpkin. A word from a seasoned orchard fan: limit yourself on apple samples. Five in less than an hour may seem fun at the time, but may end in a less-than-desirable manner.
2) Defeat of Jesse James Days. This is small-town Minnesota at its finest. As a former resident of Northfield (both as a college kid and post-graduation), there was no finer holiday than DJJD. For a non-native Minnesotan who cowers at the overwhelming thought of the massive Minnesota State Fair, DJJD is a perfect compromise: it offers food carts (cheese curds, pronto pups, corn on the cob, gyros, funnel cakes, crab fritters, among the many); entertainment (a beer tent and Bingo tent, featuring live local bands); a carnival (though even a relatively tame Ferris wheel freaks me out, I’m sure some enjoy it); and even a local tradition: the DJJD reenactment. For those of you not familiar with outlaw history, the James-Younger gang experienced its last stand at the hands of local townspeople during the Northfield Bank raid. If it’s hard to visualize, worry not: there is a close-to-authentic reenactment, complete with period costumes, charging horses, and discharging guns. For a huge history/small town festival nerd like myself, this is the piece de la resistance of the DJJD experience.
3) Homecoming. Though I spend every day at my alma mater, the sight of old friends and classmates instantly transports me back. As at any campus, Homecoming is a tradition meant to combine alums and current students in an all-out, school-colors-soaked weekend of celebration. While tromping through fall-hued leaves and admiring the beauty of the limestone, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride . Part of why I enjoy what I do is because I get to constantly welcome groups of young people to campus; they cultivate and care for a place that holds meaning for thousands. Over Homecoming, with old friends, I get to walk in my shoes from 2004-2008 (not literally, as they were smelly, holy Ugg boots) and enjoy visiting favorite spots, fighting over the best seats in the Caf, and finding that our best downtown haunts haven’t changed.
4) Hot apple cider. Anyone who knows me well understands my addiction/love for all things coffee-related; they may not, however, realize I also have an intense affinity for hot apple cider. Sure, it’s great once the snow starts to fall, but there’s something incredibly wonderful about sipping it in a cozy scarf, watching leaves fly, and strolling around town. My favorite place for hot apple cider is, incidentally, another favorite Northfield location: Goodbye Blue Monday Coffeehouse. As a barista emerita of GBM, I offer to you this hint: add a half-shot of caramel syrup. It is absolutely the best (and less indulgent than one of GBM’s Mexican hot chocolates… though I highly recommend that, too).
5) Fall colors. Once I landed in Minnesota for college and experienced my first fall here, I understood why so many people consider it a big deal: indescribably vivid, intense colors, all-natural. During my first two falls on campus, I carried with me a digital camera to snap photo after photo of fire-spotted trees. When I received my territory assignment for work, I was lucky to be gifted with the Northern half of Minnesota. This means fairs in both the Northwestern and Northeastern part of the state, where week after week, the trees become brighter as the green fades to vibrant hue. Sometimes it’s hard to keep my car on the road as I twist my head at tree after beautiful tree. Every year, I feel as if I see it for the first time. If you get the chance to cruise any of Northern Minnesota’s highways, do it; but be sure to have someone else take the wheel.
I can’t help but succumb to my professional sensibilities and offer advice: take advantage of seasonal events. The more locally established, the better. They may just be tree leaves, but slow down and indulge in a good look. Call up a friend you haven’t seen in awhile and stroll through some apple trees. Take a favorite book to Blue Monday and sip some caramel-enhanced cider. This is a season of transition and change, but it’s only made better by appreciation for the beauty — and delicious tastes — it can bring.