I'm currently with Brendan, visiting my in-laws outside Bangor, Maine. Today we walked - I can't rightly say we hiked - several miles of scenic forest trails and an elevated "bog boardwalk".
I grew up in upstate New York, not quite England but culturally not that dissimilar. I am quite obviously very familiar with the concept of changing leaves in autumn. I grew up with Autumns in which the leaves turned every amazing shade of red, orange, yellow, gold, lime, burgundy and brown. I never thought of them as anything special, or anything worth running out with a camera to capture on film - they were just a part of everyday life.
Taiwan does not have leaves that change in autumn, although I guess some parts of the country, up in the mountains, might have it to an extent (I once saw a color-changed tree on Yangmingshan, woohoo!). I haven't been home when the leaves change in years: we usually come home in late summer or late winter and miss it. It's therefore been something like half a decade since I've seen leaves changing color.
Far from being jaded about it, it was like I was a kid, or a tourist from a tropical country - the excitement over the beauty of seeing such vibrant colors in nature, splashed on trees and mottled with bright hues out to the horizon was something I hadn't experienced since early childhood. Like the beauty of the Hudson Valley, it just gets lost on you if you're exposed to it for too long.
I find that interesting - something I hadn't even been able to take for granted because I didn't notice it long enough to dismiss it, like the beauty of autumn leaves, became something new, exciting and to an extent sentimental simply because I hadn't seen it in so long. Now I can appreciate it. In 2006 I didn't even notice, let alone care.
By the way, there are black bears in the woods where we were hiking. Chances of seeing one are basically nil, but I did comment that if we did encounter one and get mauled, the local headlines would read "Former Maine Resident and his Non-Maine Wife Killed in Vicious Bear Attack".
Earlier in our visit we went to downtown Bangor. I've said before that while I don't wish to live in a small town or a cold climate, that I happen to like Bangor and if I changed my mind about both of the above, it would be a lovely place to live (for now I'm content for it to be a lovely place to visit). Not so for my own hometown, which was flooded during Hurricane Irene, to which I snarkily replied that I wish the whole thing had washed away.
I like Bangor for its pre-war architecture (lovin' that understated Art Nouveau type on the McGuire Building) and revived downtown, and compare both it and nearby Orono quite favorably to Highland, NY (where I grew up). Downtown Bangor has a few shops - some hippie-dippy, some cute, some fashionable - a neat bookstore, an awesome antique shop, more than its fair share of pubs and drinking establishments, a Japanese restaurant, two South Asian restaurants and a Thai place, among other things. There's not enough to keep me occupied long-term but there is quite enough for a longer visit.
Basically, I'm not down on all small towns. Just the one I grew up in! (I was one of the few liberals in a town of conservatives, a non-Catholic in a town full of Catholics - or for that matter a secular person in a religious town - and a Polish-Armenian who hated soccer in a town full of athletic Italians).
Over the course of our friendship and relationship, I've exposed Brendan to my cultural heritage, mostly by culinary means. I am still sorely disappointed that he doesn't like olives, even the expensive kind (which are cheap in Turkey). I've made sure he's tried lahmacun, tabbouleh, good kielbasa, fish cookies, hummus, various olives, done the whole "forage for a plate of cheese, bread, olives and other tasty things for a meal", introduced him to ketchup on eggs (a family staple - he didn't take to it) and recently made him latkes with sour cream and applesauce, which may not be my culture (I'm not Jewish), but it is something that reminds me of growing up in New York - even if it was the state, not the city.
So it was finally time for Brendan to introduce me to the food of his cultural heritage...
So we drove out...
...stopped at a convenience store...
At one point before we bought them, I saw them for sale and asked Brendan about them. Another guy at the counter said "you're not from Maine, are you?"
No, no I'm not.
I also made sure we went here:
Which may be a Canadian thing, but there is one in Maine and Brendan was born in Canada so there ya go.