Okay, her palette is more subdued. But like her big New England sisters, our state also dresses up for autumn. Preferring not to flaunt her charms, Little Rhody holds them close.
No mountainsides streaming red, maybe, but layers of rich color that warrant up-close inspection are what you’ll find here. In the southern part of the state (our favorite fall territory), coastal woodlands are chock-full of small- to medium-size trees and knee-high grasses in heart-stopping shades of deep umber and mahogany. Beneath them sway stands of ochre ferns and lavender-colored, button-sized asters. And then, of course, there’s the ocean and the salty mist that can roll in to deliciously smudge the colors and perfume the air.
The ocean magnifies and enhances this quirky season for us. Stand still at Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge and you’ll hear the waves pounding Moonstone Beach long before you see them. The 160-acre pond (the state’s only undeveloped salt pond) throws back a glorious reflection of trees and sky. But add some thundering surf (just beyond a skinny strip of barrier beach) and you’ve really got a show. Rhode Island has lots of surprises like this — tight, wooded trails flanked with yellow curtains of wild grapes and trailing vines that explode to spectacular views.
And our attractions morph delightfully, according to weather and tide. Visit picturesque Wickford Harbor one afternoon when the wind is cranking and watch the leaves fly along with the whitecaps, the boats tossing at their moorings. Come back the next day when all is clear and the surface will be blue glass, the boats lined up like ducks and the trees as prim and proper as nearby St. Paul’s steeple.
Sure, we don’t have dizzying peaks to scale. But Fort Wetherill State Park in Jamestown has enough elevation to afford sweeping views of Newport’s tree-rimmed shores, Newport Harbor, and East Passage. One-hundred-foot granite cliffs guard a pair of narrow coves where hordes of scuba divers play. Bright-red flags, like cheery birthday candles, bob above the divers’ underwater spots.
In Newport, the great trees along Bellevue Avenue look as gilded as the mansions. The afternoon light burnishes the coppery leaves, lending the scene a romantic, big-as-Hollywood persona. “It’s true, the mood heightens,” says Andrea Carneiro, communications manager for The Preservation Society of Newport County. “There’s a shimmery gold cast to everything.”
If we crave a different perspective, we can zoom north and then east over the Sakonnet River, pick up Route 77, and dip south again till we can’t go any farther. This is a heady part of the state, too — pretty rolling pastures falling off to the water, lovely farmhouses, and bountiful farm stands. You know the kind: piles of neon-orange pumpkins, knobby gourds, and Indian corn.
Seasonal explorations in the northern half of the state might include what natives call the Gloucester Loop — a sort of squiggly drive meandering west along Route 44, past Waterman Reservoir and the village of Harmony (a must-stop for some of Chester’s chili), and then on through Chepachet and West Gloucester. There we can start the gradual swing on smaller roads through Clayville and up to North Scituate, ambling our way back home. In these parts, with the road almost to yourself, it’s possible to just poke along. Barns go by, antiques shops sprout here and there, and, on either side of the car, ribbons of colored trees unravel.
In the end, it’s all about our mood or how the wind is blowing. The craving for fresh apples moves us one way, a desire to walk barefoot on sand another. We Rhode Islanders delight in the deep, winter-is-coming hue of the bay as well as the blazing maples. And since it’s an easy drive from one end of our bushel-basket-sized domain to the other, we needn’t choose any one activity. In just a couple of hours, we know, we can have it all — the whole state. And, really, how sweet is that?