There’s nothing like a short vacation to clear the mind and make one appreciative of what we have.

First, about the vacation. Hiking in a new area is always exciting and that was certainly true for me a few weeks ago.

My wife, Debbie, and I hiked for a few days in Death Valley in California. The history of the area is compelling and the scenery is surprisingly stunning. It’s definitely quite different from New England hiking.

When hiking, there is plenty of time to reflect on current events, especially in sports. Following are some thoughts as the fall season winds to a close.

— Hats off to the North Andover cross country program. The names have changed throughout the years, but coach Rick DelleChiaie has kept the Knights, both boys and girls, competitive year-in and year-out. This year is no exception.

— Congratulations to NHIAA football champions Pelham and Timberlane. Both teams were dominant in the regular season and playoffs, had strong running games and defenses and were exciting to watch.

— I’m sure I’m not in the minority, but I’ve been pleased with this year’s edition of the New England Patriots. The Pats seem to have their best defense in years as well as depth at running back and receiver. And, thus far, I’ve been impressed with new quarterback Mac Jones.

— The jury is still out, at least for me, on the Boston Celtics. I have no problem with the frontcourt, but a starting backcourt of Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder has me worried. I still feel that Smart is more effective as a disruptive force coming off the bench and playing in the starting lineup.

— If you want to get in the mood for winter sports, check out a Northern Essex Community College men’s basketball team.

The team is highly competitive and has exciting players like Haverhill’s Phillip Cunningham and Elijah Haas, Lawrence’s Daniel Almarante, Salem State transfer Matt D’Amato from Peabody and forwards Metin Yavus and Mehmet Asik, both from Turkey.

— I haven’t formed a definitive opinion on this year’s Boston Bruins yet, but I feel a lot more comfortable with youngster Jeremy Swayman in goal rather than Swede Linus Ullmark. Swayman seems more active and more likely to come up with the crazy save when needed.

— If the New England Revolution are every going to win the MLS Cup, this is the year. The Revs had the best record in the regular season (22-5-7), the best goalie in Matt Turner and a much improved offense.

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