Autumn commences this weekend (Saturday at 10:49 a.m., to be exact) in the autumnal equinox (equinox, literally, “equal night”), presumably so named because it marks the time when the night is as long as the day. It’s the day after which daylight begins to yield itself, by degrees, to a creeping darkness and the lengthening of shadows. But, in the height of autumn (October), Michigan really shows itself off in a burst of color, in the perfume of decaying vegetation and ripening apples, and through its bounteous yield of produce. Here, then, are ten ways to drink deeply of what Fall has to offer. Nothing new under the sun here: just a remembering, really, of why it is that we in Western Michigan, we in the Midwest, and our friends and family in New England find this season the most intoxicating of the year.
An activity best taken advantage of during the early days and weeks of autumn, before the chill of mid-to-late October. Oh, what a way to do a color tour of the state! There is, of course, the White Pine Trail, great for an afternoon ride from Comstock Park to Rockford, especially to take in the City of Rockford’s Harvest Festival (this year, October 6th & 7th and October 13th & 14th, 2012). Then there are the Ada-Forest Hills Trails, which, if you head east past Seidman Park, will eventually take you across a covered bridge. A recent discovery is that of the Muskatawa Trail which runs from Comstock Park to Muskegeon. Drawn to it by the description of a trail that offers a slice of Americana as one follows an old train track through farmlands and near small towns, I was not disappointed.
An activity that offers the sights and smells of the turning autumn trees and falling leaves, hiking lends itself well to crisp autumn days when biking becomes quite chilly. It’s the thing to be enjoyed with a cigar in hand (or a beer or flask of Scotch). Favorite hiking trails: the trails at the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve, the trails at Warren Townsend Park (the trail head’s on 6 Mile Road), and Aman Park on Lake Michigan drive as one heads west from Grand Rapids toward Allendale.
3. The Farmer’s Market
The Farmers’ Markets of Michigan come into full bloom in autumn. Grand Rapids’ favorite: the Fulton Street Farmers Market. But why not try the Rockford Farm Market, voted ” ‘America’s Favorite Farmers Market’ in a 2011 nationwide popularity contest sponsored by the American Farmland Trust,” (rockford.mi.us) or, if you’re up for the drive, the Meridian Township Farmers’ Market. Just east of Lansing, it sits on the grounds of what begins to feel like New England with a steepled white church and an old wood cabin.
4. Wine & Hard Apple Cider Tasting
One of our favorites in Southwest Michigan: Fenn Valley, with tasting rooms both in Fennville and Saugatuck. When it comes to cider, there’s VanderMill Ciders in Spring Lake Michigan, or–if you’re heading up to the the Leelanau Peninsula to do some serious wine-tasting–be sure to visit Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay.
5. Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery
A local tradition: make an afternoon trip to this Grand Rapids farm for cider and cinnamon doughnuts, or–on a warm fall day–pumpkin ice cream. Be sure to visit the wine tasting room to sample their wines which make wonderful accompaniments to a Thanksgiving dinner or that become excellent for serving warm with mulling spices.
6. Apple Picking
One of our most memorable moments from last autumn was the enchanting trip we made to New England in the month of October. The small boroughs, towns, and villages nestled in the rolling hills of the Smoky Mountains bewitched us. Of our favorite memories from the trip was an apple-picking excursion on a mountaintop orchard overlooking the patchwork of colors in the surrounding hills and valleys. Something of that can be had locally in Michigan’s apple country: Kent County. Try Ed Dunneback & Girls Farm Market on 6 Mile Road: after picking the forbidden fruit, enjoy perusing their selection of local products for sale in the barn.
Coming back from trick-or-treating growing up, we were always greeted by the smell of hot, mulled cider, percolating in an old coffee maker which gurgled and moaned, sounding like the groans of an old ghost. Click on the link above for the Family recipe of the tastiest hot cider we’ve ever tried.
8. Visit a Used Book Store
When the chill autumn rains come and the winds begin to blow: no time for biking or hiking. And perhaps the colors of the trees have dimmed and the few leaves remaining hang by mere threads. Take a cup of coffee or a Pumpkin Spiced Latte with you, and spend the morning leafing through the pages of the books found in some old used bookstore. Just around the corner from our house rests Redux Books, specializing in rare, out-of-print, and antiquarian books (if you go, Clarence can tell you what an “antiquarian” book is). In these stores can be found veritable treasures.
9. Pumpkin carving
Stop by a roadside stand to pick up the mailable orange marble which, with a few simple tools, can be chiseled into luminosities for the porch stoop which cast that haunting glow of the Halloween season.
The month of October ushers in Halloween Season, around which have grown many and various traditions. Some of our favorite ways to mark the season: strolling through a graveyard (The Findlay Cemetery in Ada or the Fulton Street Cemetery); reading Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (be sure to have a dictionary in hand), Haunted Houses of Grand Rapids by local professor Gary Eberle, and Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz; and watching Disney’s version of Washington Irving’s fabled tale and featuring the voice of Bing Crosby (what a treat!).