It's that time of the year when you feel as if you should drive north and look at leaves. You see the pictures of the flaming trees, and think, "How lovely. All that red, all that gold, the big red trucks watering the trees — no wait, that's a photo of a forest fire. Hope everyone's OK!"
You're probably remembering a picture from another year, or 10 years ago — a broad expanse of deep crimson set against the clear cold sky, reflected in the still waters of a lake. It stirs something in you. You check the maps: Augh, it's peak color! Now! "Everyone into the car. We're heading north."
"What? Is Grandma OK?"
"Grandma's fine. We're going to go stare at tall plants that are incrementally losing their chlorophyll. Now move it."
You floor it all the way up I-35. "Can we stop at Hinckley for caramel rolls?"
"No. We stop for rolls, you'll want to use the bathroom, there'll be a line, and we get Up North and it's nothing but the husks of autumn glory."
"But I need to ... "
And so you speed a little, and then you get pulled over outside of Hinckley. "Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?"
"Sorry, officer. We're trying to get Up North before Peak Color ends. We wanted a family picture for the Christmas card, so people can think we have a wonderful life where there's no emotional friction, just happiness by trees."
The patrolman nods, tells you he understands and orders you to follow him. It's lights and sirens for the next 40 miles until you get to the exit that says: "All those trees with the fall leaves."
But when you get to the spot — the forest, the shore, the lake — a work crew is packing up the bleachers. Teams of men in yellow vests are using leaf blowers to strip the trees.
"Sorry," says Olaf, the grizzled old caretaker who's been overseeing this spot since 1943 and can tell you tales about the time all the maples went red on one afternoon in 1973. Yep, folks around these parts still talk about it.
That, and Kim Kardashian's Paris robbery. Something about that's fishy.
Olaf looks up as you run from the parking lot, and he shakes his head. Happens every year.
"It's over," he said. "Peak Color happened an hour ago. It's moved on, I'm afraid. You might be able to catch it if you take Highway 42 south."
"Thank you, grizzled man of the woods, wise to the ways of the season. We appreciate your timeless, intuitive feel for the ancient rhythms of nature."
"I'm just telling you what my app says on my phone," he insists. "Sends me real-time Peak Color GPS coordinates."
If the day goes well, you find your Peak Color for the family portrait. You stop at a Corn Maze, because you're having a Family Autumn Outing and nothing says "fall fun" like being disoriented in a field.
They have hot cider, which you buy because everyone loves slightly painful apple juice, and they have a bonfire, so you can feel outdoorsy and smell like people in an Eddie Bauer catalog.
You could do all that. Me? I look at the Peak Colors state map like a slo-mo chart of a tsunami, heading for the shore of our town. It'll be here any day. Any hour. Stay home. Serve caramel rolls.
I owe the family that much, since last year we blew past Hinckley.