Ah, fall. It’s that time again when those endless shades of green shift softly into muted pastels, visual whispers hinting to the brilliant grand finale to follow. Wild surges of life soon fill our senses, but with them come the inevitability of their approaching finality – an end we know as cyclic, but despite the mind’s reason stir powerfully poignant forces of feeling within. Here in Rochester, where leaves on trees and color itself go missing for several months of the year, a wide range of emotions as unpredictable as our famed weather may in fact be a trait we locals share inherently, even if secretly. Still, we have the fortunate position to fully experience the best of all seasons, as well as countless ways to make the most of them. So when those fall feelings start a-rustlin’, there are places to indulge them completely ...
And what would fall be without that familiar ache of melancholy? Like a ghost of an absent friend strolling quietly beside, its presence can be felt deeply but remain unseen. Through generations, the treasured setting for such long walks continues to welcome wistful wanderers: Mount Hope Cemetery.
Autumn only enhances the beauty that grows with Mt Hope’s age, shaping the seeming gloom with a dimension of loveliness. Discovery is constant, heightened by the dynamic glacially-formed landscape; steep-pitched hills and sprawling valleys serve as equalizing resting grounds for those marked by the grandest Victorian symbols of prosperous afterlife to the humble anonymous stones barely reading “Mother” or “Beloved” decaying under overgrown brush. Imagination is illuminated, and those with a Romantic bent may deeply immerse themselves in nostalgia for long-passed eras, whiling the hours wondering and winding beneath the canopies of countless trees that have been witness to them.Trees are perfect companions to those feeling a heightened sense of loneliness in the fall. Some trees may even be considered old friends. Right in the city of Rochester, we have some old trees that can serve as quiet comfort, instilling a life-affirming awe in those who stand beneath them. Take a walk through Cobbs Hill Park to Washington Grove. Almost immediately, you will enter an oasis of big-time fall, crunching strata of leaves underfoot as you surround yourself in an entire world of woods awash with warm hues.
For those who prefer to add dramatic imagery to accentuate their own solitude, a long, single line of trees cannot be beat. Sycamore trees, with their golden-aura tops and mysterious Autumnal bark, are especially effective, and Rochester is endowed with a number of such rows. The most photogenic of these line the entrance to Rochester Institute of Technology along Lomb Memorial Drive, with enough distance from the road to stride undisturbed, gazing shoeward. Charming lines of sycamores can also be found in city neighborhoods; try a stroll along Browncroft Boulevard near Winton, or, most stunningly, Crawford Street between Goodman and Mt Vernon.
As fall progresses and the reality starts to set in of those impending snowy months, instead of avoiding that soul-dulling sense of dread, you could choose to face it head-on. Just head north. Keep going until you get to that great lake, and bring yourself to shore. Rochester's legendary skies of stark grey and its moodier tones sometimes wash indecipherably into the mysterious darkness of Lake Ontario, obscuring all we vaguely fear may lurk just beyond. With feet planted where water meets land, and eyes fixed where water meets sky, we can let the wind and waves power away all that fear and dread.
For added drama and striking visual reinforcement, take the Seaway Trail east to Chimney Bluffs State Park in Wolcott, NY. There you will find an otherworldly cliffscape lining the shore, an ever-changing natural monument to the transformative power of wind. Feel that same wind on your face, and notice how your face does not erode from your skull. You can face whatever it is you dread. Now, be sure to follow all this with something to look forward to, like a treat from Burnap’s Farm Market in Sodus on that scenic drive back.
Indeed, as a day of planetary equilibrium marks the entrance of fall, the season’s transitional progression from one extreme to another affects us all with its transformative properties. For many, these changes are barely perceptible externally, but are hot under the surface. A perfect outward trek to stoke the fire within is a hike to Eternal Flame Falls at Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, NY. The trail, while not too long or arduous, is still a journey, taking you through woods and groves of varying densities down to a rocky, watery path toward a wall of rocks and twisting tree roots climbing beside the trickling falls that barely conceal a modest natural flame. It’s worth the drive, but much closer to home a journey through the tunnel at Corbett’s Glen in Penfield will take you to its own other side, into a haven that is so puzzlingly close to the highway.
Those who feel a restless urge to explore possibilities during this season may benefit from a scenic hub of passageways. With so many paths to follow and beautiful bridges to cross, Genesee Valley Park offers choices to those still undecided in the face of so many options. Interesting lines and curves form as layers of paths cross in close proximity to one another. Behold the confluence of the Erie Canal and Genesee river while the nearby Route 390 passes over, high above, to form a sort of sci-fi underpath of its own.
Let's not forget the trails; the Erie Canal Heritage Trail, the city's Riverway Trail, and the Genesee Valley Greenway Trail (built atop the bed of the towpath-turned-railroad that once lined the former Genesee Valley Canal) charm the waterways with quaint arch bridges where one can pause and contemplate all that’s happening at once. Gorgeous stretches await in every direction. The north-bound Riverway Trail will take you through the city to the lake, while traveling south on the Greenway will take you into the countryside -- all the way to Letchworth Park. East or west routes along the canal will bring you as far along as you'd like to go, dotting your course with canal-side villages to take in a bit of New York state history along the way.
For others, fall is a time for reflection, to take the time and recede decisively inward rather than expand capriciously. For a much neater, less chaotic, and more contained setting, make a point to visit the gardens at the George Eastman House on East Avenue. A perfect place to sort your thoughts is through the geometric Terrace garden, creating a tidy, angular labyrinth for when you need it most. Balancing the straight lines are the covered, columned curves of the Rock garden, where on shaded benches you can sit and admire the overhanging grapevines. But a personal favorite is the West garden, where, in a most enchanting stone loggia, one can sit hidden and sheltered even in the wind and rain.
If you are bound to a desk in the city during the most beautiful of fall days – be it the sunny, the crisp, or the moody overcast variety – you still have options. A quick stroll through Washington Square Park on Clinton Avenue, between Woodbury Boulevard and Court Street, provides the immediate, albeit miniaturized, Central Park aesthetic integral to any urban autumn experience. Of course, for a dramatic meeting of history, industry, and nature, there’s no place like High Falls. Contemplate the view from Pont de Rennes that would be impossible to achieve not long ago. Every scene deserves its own postcard; southward, a passing train over the massive falls enlivens what may arguably be the best view of the city, while a north-stretching view of the stunning foliage along the Genesee extends invitingly onward. A Rochester fall is as varied as the moods it evokes.