Thursday, 9 November 2006

A strange form of spontaneity

I came across something quite fascinating this morning - a 'fall colors update' telling you where in the US to go to see the autumn colours of the forests.It even tells you which stage of colour have been achieved where.

It seems slightly wrong, though. It's like chasing hurricanes - which I gather has become a sort of sport and has even generated a tour operator specialising in hurricane safaris! (Though admittedly, he's only letting professionals in on the act, presumably because they come with their insurance already fixed).

For me, autumn colours ought to be experienced spontaneously. You're out there, and suddenly the sun shines in a certain direction, or you round a bend in the road, and it's as if someone turned all the lights on; the landscape  is glowing with red, orange, yellow. It happened to me on a stormy day walking a circuit from Kendal - the sun came out, and the trees were all below me, wonderfully sidelit; and then again driving down a valley in the French Vexin, when we rounded a corner and came over the top of a crest,  and there was a whole amphitheatre full of autumn forest.

I know you can drive to see these marvellous forests in the US. But I do wonder whether the experience is ever going to be quite as gratifying as the spontaneous, unexpected glimpse of glory you get purely by  accident.

Perhaps that's a paradox. After all I write tour guides for a living - trying to structure people's experiences. But at some point, spontaneity is the thing that really makes travel come alive - and you can't structure that.
So let's celebrate the accidental, the unexpected, the spontaneous. Happy autumn.

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