Editorial: Born again leaf peeper

This is all new to me. Autumn in Vermont. What a way to see away the high season. In Russia, after a hot summer in the city (yes, it’s not cold there all the time), you would have some reds here and there, but it was a lot of yellow with all the birches and poplar trees. Here. Wow. Seeing anew sumac bushes flash crimson, silver maples glow orange against a fading flora and regal purples pop out of the high hills—it’s like a slow-motion kaleidoscope hypnotizing me into a born-again leaf peeper.

But really, autumn to me will always mean pumpkins.

Bunten pumpkins.

Bunten pumpkins.

Tucked up in the sandy soil of the New Hampshire Connecticut River basin stand about 200 acres of what used to be the family farm. My grandfather, Forrest Bunten, toiled the earth in Orford for many years, raising my father and his five siblings. He had a dairy operation for a while, but later he somehow made a modest living selling pumpkins.

When I was young, cars would be lined up outside the house every weekend, looking for those “world famous” Bunten pumpkins. He also grew wildly vibrant “Indian corn” and gourds of other-worldly shape. We used to lend a hand where we could, mainly out in the fields. We’d trundle through the sandy soil seated in the back of a high-sided hay wagon, jumping in and out, stacking the orange orbs, trying not to break the stems. (Never pick up a pumpkin by the stem. Forrest would not approve.)

My grandfather was a cross-grained gentleman who seemed to wake up in his Red Wings and had a Pendleton for every occasion. He got through the day with a balance of Protestant work ethic and meat and potatoes. He certainly wasn’t a warm, cuddly cuss, but he had his softer moments. An example of such occasion was when he called a neighbor a “peckerhead” for some mild offense. We laughed and laughed. He didn’t usually swear.

Forest passed on back in 2005 and the farm was deeded to all the kids. My aunt and uncle took it over and managed it for years, diversifying the offerings to include cheese, ice cream and, later, a restaurant, but they ultimately had to sell. They only closed on it earlier this year. My father never saw it out of Bunten hands.

Autumn means pumpkins to me. But that translates into so much more than a Halloween decoration—it’s hands on the land, work ethic, prickly pumpkin stalks, toughening up, fathers and sons, where it was all begun. This year, indeed, it’s all new—I’m peeping with new eyes and making the best of it all. Like the seasons, life changes and makes a fool out of you for not appreciating moments when you had them.

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