Columbus Day weekend is not the best time to be in the Berkshires. With all the flatlanders driving north in their SUVs to gawk at the leaves as though the concept of deciduous flora was unknown to them, Flo and I decided to head south for the weekend. And seeing as we now have a car, which can actually go on road trips with minimal risk of the engine falling out halfway down the Pike, we headed to Providence for the weekend. Apparently we weren't alone in this as half the cars I saw in downtown Providence had Massachusetts plates.
First of all, I'd like to point out we don't have enough stereotypes about how people from Rhode Island drive like jerks. This is a critical oversight on our part as it leaves us unprepared for facing death when entering the Ocean State. I believe the Rhodhirim subscribe to a religion similar to those practiced by the ancient Celts and Vikings. They think should they die a glorious death while attempting to pass on the right, they will be sent to a Valhalla-like afterlife filled with the bounties of their people: French fries with vinegar and $4 cupcakes.
Our purpose in heading south was twofold. We wanted to visit the zoo and see the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, a night time walk featuring thousands of the eponymous fall decorations. Both were excellent opportunities to explore my ever-expanding hobby of freestyle misanthropy.
I love zoos but I'm always bothered by the other patrons complaining loudly that the animals are sleeping, away from the viewing area or otherwise not performing for their amusement. It generally begins with kids who start off genuinely excited to see the animals reacting with disappointment upon seeing an animal sleeping or in the far side of the enclosure. Their parents are then granted the chance to teach their children an important lesson about how they can't always get everything on their own terms and that they should appreciate what they can see. Unfortunately, most parents will decide instead to take the low road and chime in with the complaints that the otters were not wearing top hats and riding unicycles. Inevitably, one of them will make some reference to the entry fee they paid as if the zoo was somehow ripping them off by providing low-grade animals that aren't constantly tap dancing and doing card tricks. I wasn't sure how it works in Rhode Island, but in Massachusetts I'm pretty sure you're allowed to push people who say that into the bear enclosure. I'm fairly confident there was a passage to that effect in the Mayflower compact.
The Jack-O-Lantern show was a lot of fun but sadly the main thing I took away from it was how much I hate smartphones. Now partly it's because I'm an old coot, and I think that if a flip phone was good enough for Captain Kirk then it's good enough for me, but mostly because of the behavior they engender. Since every phone now has a camera better than all but the most professional grade of digital camera, taking pictures has become a reflexive action rather than deliberate. The vast majority of people going through the exhibition did not actually look at the Jack-O-Lanterns but instead methodically took pictures of each of the featured pumpkins in turn before moving on to the next. I saw families where each individual took their own picture on their own phone, as if somehow the three different angles of the same pumpkin would make the resulting photo into a family bonding experience. What makes it worse is I know few of the pictures will ever be looked at by the photographer, but instead uploaded to Facebook en masse.
I guess what really bugs me is these people are missing the entire point of fall by trying to capture it in digital form. winter and summer are about the apex of the natural cycles, Spring about rebirth, but Autumn is all about things going away in one last beautiful hurrah. Jack-O-Lanterns are perhaps the epitome of that transience: they are art that actively decompose. They are a brief burst of color and creative passion that shines in the encroaching darkness and then fades away forever. Creating a permanent record of these ephemeral images locks fall into a stasis, the domain of winter and defeats the whole purpose. A Jack-O-Lantern, a last bountiful harvest, a brightly colored mountainside, these things are more beautiful precisely because they will never be seen again.