Like a Rainbow

          Columbus Day weekend is the only time there’s traffic in Vermont. People drive up from New York and Connecticut to see the leaves turn colors. And I can see why.
          If you’ve never seen a New England autumn, I won’t be of much help. The only word that comes to mind to describe it is “unnatural,” and that’s obviously the wrong word.
          All the deciduous trees become showoffs. The colors are so bright, and there are so many of them, all together in the woods, shimmering in the breeze. It’s the colors of a box of Trix cereal, on LSD.
          Sometimes on a long bike ride through the woods I’ll see a row of maples, oaks and sycamores all lit up by the sun, and I’ll burst into laughter. There is nothing else you can do. The woods have become insane.
          During these weeks in Vermont, husbands and wives come home at night and say to their spouse, “You have to come see this tree.” So you go see the tree, immediately, because tomorrow it will be different. Sometimes you drive a pretty far ways to see a tree. But I’ve never been disappointed.
          There are trees that appear to be lit from within, yellow inside leaves turning to orange to pink and scarlet at the outer branches. Sometimes a tree is red as a northern cardinal. Or flame-orange on one side, red on the other, with a big pink branch on top. Sometimes you’ll see a whole line of trees like that, along a brook, or across a meadow. Then you laugh and laugh. And go get your wife.
          There is one way I can describe it, but it will require a bit of a detour. Bear with me on the detour and we’ll get back to the trees. Perhaps you will see what I mean.
     Many years ago I got a graduate degree in teaching from Northwestern University. To do this I had to take the dreaded course in Teaching Methods. This is the worst course in the history of man. Take it with a martini and it will stop your heart.
          But fortunately, the professor I had was the best-perhaps the only-person whose Teaching Methods course kicked butt. She reminded me of my old Polish grandma. She had done just about everything there is to do in teaching and everything she taught us was from the real world. For instance, the first thing she said in the first class was this: “All right, you’ve got 40 weeks of class and you need lesson plans. What do you do?” She quickly drew 40 boxes on the blackboard. Then she crossed off the first and last boxes. “Forget about the first and last weeks. You won’t be able to do anything. Now you need 38 weeks of lesson plans.”
          I went on to teach in public schools for nine years, and she was right. You can’t do anything the first or last weeks.
     Another thing she told us was that sometime during sophomore year, every high school girl goes crazy. “I don’t know why it’s the sophomore girls,” she said. “But that’s how it is.”
          Don’t blame me. I’m just the reporter. But what she said was true. Sometimes it happens in junior year, occasionally to a freshman. But odds are, at some point during sophomore year in high school, every girl becomes crazy.
          This was revealed to me most dramatically the first year I taught, by a girl I’ll call Alice. Alice was probably the best student I ever had. The first story she wrote me could have run in The New Yorker. I thought she had cadged it somewhere, but no; everything Alice handed in was like that. She got nothing but A’s in everything; she invented a method of taking attendance that saved the school thousands of dollars a year; she jotted down homework assignments in a little black book and often completed her notes before I had finished giving the assignment. I asked her to show me what she had written once when she did that, and she had got it right. She did all her homework so perfectly she showed me many times what a dumb assignment I had given. She dressed like the CEO of a corporation, which I am sure she is by now, and she brooked no nonsense from boys, or from me.
          Then one week Alice showed up dressed like a whore and acting like a slut. She slathered perfume makeup all over herself. She pinched the boys and made them cry. She talked back in class and sassed me, and was funny, and dirty. She was out of her mind. Then next week came and she became Alice again, straight A+ student, dressed like a CEO.
          She was a sophomore.
          In Vermont in the fall, all the trees act like sophomore girls.

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