It’s an apple year, as I was reminded the other afternoon beneath a heavy laden tree. When a plump yellow fruit slipped its mooring and thunked my knee, I noticed deer tracks in the moist earth. They’d come in the chill pre-dawn, and I recalled Robert Frost’s line from After Apple Picking, “Essence of winter sleep is on the night.”
But I mean to speak of soccer, not apples. For from the welcome shade of that bow-bent apple tree the Northfield High School soccer field stretched away, and on it Northfield was opposing Williamstown High, from over the ridge. A big crowd watched as Northfield soundly trounced the fading dynasty of Williamstown 4-0. The number of spectators reminded me of what a fan once observed at the packed Barre Auditorium during a basketball game between two small town teams. “Hope there ain’t a fire in Cabot today. Nobody’s home to put it out.”
I love high school soccer and this fall will probably attend 20 games. Vermont soccer has improved mightily the past 20 years, and what once often seemed artless scrambles now sometimes display what Europeans call “the beautiful game” that is their “football.”
The games are a joy, but are greatly enhanced by their settings. From the Northfield pitch I see the Northfield Mountains recede south. And as fall progresses, their slopes will take on fall’s colors. Indeed, many Vermont high school fields are so beautiful that the settings compete with my interest in the game. The Champlain Valley and Green Mountain School fields are good examples.
Last fall, during a playoff at South Burlington, a gigantic golden sun suddenly broke through a grim fall sky, sending a mighty ray skimming the Adirondacks that ignited one of the grandest sunsets I’ve ever seen. It momentarily blinded one goal keeper.
Soccer is everywhere in Vermont, and usually admission free. Same goes for the college games I take in at Norwich, Middlebury, St. Michaels, Vermont Tech, UVM. And I find more and more Vermont high school graduates on those schools’ rosters.
But all things considered, give me high school soccer, particularly in October. Maple covered hillsides, where cows once grazed and tired farmers paused to take in the seasonal majesty, frame the contests. Fan excitement is electric with playoffs approaching, as from behind that red and gold ridge lurking winter brings down the last apples. I think of Frost’s tired picker’s lament, “I have had too much of apple picking.” But me? I may have had my fill of apples, but never of soccer.”