It's time to make reservations for your Splendor in the Leaves trip to New England--the one you've been promising yourself all these years.
You think I'm kidding, I suppose. Think I'm an alarmist. You think you've got all the time in the world. You'll tell me you haven't even decided where you're spending Memorial Day weekend, and here I am nagging you to make reservations for the week of Oct. 6.
Well, just listen: I know from experience.
I was in Haydenville, Mass., last Oct. 10, and the leaves were such flaming firecrackers of color--so vivid, outlandish, unpredictable--that I was sure they had been painted by an insatiable exhibitionist.
I just stood there and looked. I didn't want to do anything else except try to take in all the dazzle so I could bring it back again in my mind. And I made feeble efforts to preserve the moment by pressing a few leaves and taking pictures.
Nothing is as fleeting as a moment, though. Within a week the leaves were like a faded smile. No more peak. No more radiance.
And I almost missed it.
When I made my reservations in what turned out to be almost-too-late June, I lost out at a few of my first-choice places, paid much too much at one desperation destination, was out in the cold at another and--the sole virtue of being such a slowpoke--landed one unexpected winner.
What we Californians don't seem to realize is that our state is not the object of everyone's affection. We think that all eyes face westward toward palm trees, but such is not the case. New England in the fall is so popular that even the natives take vacations there.
Some Sell Crafts
And others take care of the vacationers. Some sweep off the front steps of their sleepy-by spots and dust the lamp shades. Some sell crafts (there's an irresistible state Craft Center at Windsor, Vt., and another at Frog Hollow in Middlebury that's five minutes from beautiful Middlebury College). Some native sons and daughters stand over hot stoves, flipping blueberry pancakes and pouring maple syrup with the abandon of a child who's found the garden faucet.
Now, if you're really serious about setting your eyes on spectacular beauty, the first trip you will take--and very soon--is to your public library.
Bed and breakfasts are such a fast-growing business in all parts of the country that you'll need a lot of time just to pore through the books. At least six paperbacks contain detailed information about accommodations in New England; some are devoted exclusively to the area. (See list below.)
State agencies are another good source of information. Vermont, for example--sweet, unsophisticated Vermont--has one of the slickest and most complete of all such reference materials ("Vermont Traveler's Guidebook" available from the Vermont State Chamber of Commerce, Box 37, Montpelier 05602). The Vacation Travel Division of the Massachusetts Department of Commerce, 150 Causeway St., Boston 14, is another.
Although the seemingly endless list of sleep places will be confusing at first, the air will clear once you've charted your route on a map and decided on how many miles you plan to cover each day.
And once you've checked the rates. And once you've decided that yes, you can share a bathroom and yes, you can forgo TV and yes, you do like antiques.
And yes, you do prefer off-the-beaten-track cottages where the kids in the family help with the chores.
Planning this kind of adventure is an integral part of the excitement, because you're also in the process of making new friends rather than tipping surly bellhops. You can fantasize about lingering in homey living rooms and sipping sherry and swapping stories.
One such place that touched me was Oak Lodge in Sheffield, Mass., a few miles south of the familiar but very commercial Stockbridge.
The lodge is run by Dick and Robin Perilli, who, with their guests in mind, have installed private baths--rare in B&Bs--in each of their 15 pleasing rooms ($55, including an ample breakfast). Perilli, a recent expatriate from ad agency anxiety on Madison Avenue, says he much prefers making omelets to writing copy. He's very good at omelets. (Oak Lodge, P.O. Box 667, Sheffield, Mass. 01257.
I probably won't go back for the splendor this fall. I'm leaving that glory for you. But get started. Splendor, as everyone knows, lasts such a short time.
Here's a random sampling of books to get your decision juices moving in an Eastern direction:
"The New England Guest House Book" by Corinne Madden Ross, 1982, East Woods Press Book, Fast & McMillan Publishers, 429 East Blvd., Charlotte, N.C. 28203 ($7.95).
"Bed and Breakfast in the Northeast" by Bernice Chesler, 1983, Globe Pequot Press, Chester, Conn. 06412 ($9.95.).
"The Complete Guide to Bed & Breakfasts, Inns and Guesthouses" by Pamela Lanier, 1984, John Muir Publications, P.O. Box 613, Santa Fe, N.M. 87504 ($9.95).
"America's Wonderful Little Hotels & Inns 1984," edited by Barbara Crossette, fourth edition, Eastern region, Congdon & Weed Inc., New York ($10.95).
"A Treasury of Bed & Breakfast," published by the American Bed & Breakfast Assn., 1984, P.O. Box 23294, Washington, D.C. 20026 ($12.95).
"Bed & Breakfast American Style--1984" by Norman T. Simpson, published by Berkshire Traveller Press, Stockbridge, Mass. 01262, third edition ($9.95.).
Note: Some books accept paid advertising. Read them all carefully. Double-check the places that appear in more than one book. That may be a good sign; sometimes not. If you can't find anything you want among these books, there are several others. Check your library or bookstore.