Sunday, 24 October 2010

New England in the Fall

In 1949, Alistair Cooke said this about the phenomenon of New England at this time of year:

'There are times of the year when anybody with an itch for travel must think of those parts of the earth that God favoured above all others when He handed out the seasons. There are two of these that I have enjoyed many times but I still find myself goggling and marvelling every time they come around. One is the English spring and the other is New England in the fall.'

Twenty years earlier, on a ranch in Mud Springs Canyon, Arizona, a precociously talented young boy called Rex Allen began picking on a guitar and singing, at first for friends and family, then at local functions. After graduating high school, he went on the rodeo circuit in the Southwest, but he still had his eye on show business, and after a spell in vaudeville and on radio's National Barn Dance, he was signed by Mercury Records in 1948. Allen's recording career spanned three decades, but he is better remembered for a string of western movies in which he played himself, the epitome of the clean-cut, all-American hero of the wild west. He sang and rode his way through nineteen in all, most in the company of his favourite horse, Koko.

Like many of Hollywood's western stars of the fifties and sixties, Rex Allen was a natural horseman. In this souvenir photograph he is riding, like all cowboys, from the hip; guiding Koko by little shifts of his upper body, hands relaxed and light, giving the horse his head.

Allen's silvery voice gave him yet another career, as a voice artist - which brings me back to the splendours of fall in the northern states of the US and the maritime provinces of Canada. In 1963 he was asked by director Fletcher Markle to record the narration for the most famous animal movie ever made, the 'Fantastic true life drama' that was The Incredible Journey; and these are the opening lines of the opening sequence:

'It was in that time of year called Indian summer, that season when the Canadian wilderness is touched by autumn's mystery..'

Excellent. I remember shedding tears of joy at the end.

By the way, the reason that such an explosion of colour comes to this particular region, has to do with a combination of latitude and humidity. New England is far enough north for native hardwoods to be touched - hit - by sudden frosts in early October which quicken the sap, the strong sunshine of the rest of the month bringing it out as colour in the leaves.

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