October 2, 2010

A Tribute to Fall

I'm really missing the good old USA, as I do every year around this time.

(Burnside Bridge, Antietam, 2008)

(Antietam Battlefield, 2008)

It's funny how nostalgic we get about our place of origin when we are no longer there to hate on it and tell it it's boring. And oh, how nostalgic I get. About the riot of color as leaves start to die, the pervasive smell of burning wood, new school supplies, pumpkin-flavored things. Leaf crunching opportunities. It's almost too much.

... which is why, when a fantastically glorious friend sends me a VAT of Starbucks pumpkin spice syrup (definitely not meant to be sold as retail, but my little Brown beauty has tricks up her sleeve), I get a little overwhelmed. See?

So here's a little something I wrote after my travels in Europe about leaves and change and... well, coming home. Happy Fall, everybody. I'll be home soon.

A Dying Season

Most of my childhood travel memories are overcast by nausea. It always rose quickly during my family’s drives through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I'd ride the s-bends with my fingers stuck out the window, green face reflected in the bug-smeared glass. But even between bouts of Dramamine-induced coma, I remember the scenery clearly. As we wound through the mountains, past the multi-layered rock shelves speckled with moss, we would all grow quiet, captured by Virginia's autumn foliage. Nature's dying season would sneak up on us when we weren't paying attention - first in yellow hazard yellow bursts between boughs, then a sprinkling of pale pink and ochre. Then Fall would smother us in one fluid motion, trees exploding as if on fire. The leaves shouted through the silence, cut only by Lyle Lovett crooning through our car's speakers.

Being a child of the temperate world, I was used to the wonders of seasonal changes: the smell of snow approaching, the feel of new leaves between fingertips. Even so, every year at my great uncle's farm in the mountains, I would lie beneath the trees staring up in eternal awe at sharp outlines of yellow leaves against blue sky. Fall's colors captured me in a way the other seasons didn't. When I went to college on Virginia's coast, good autumn foliage seemed to get harder to find. The season seemed to have grown inexpressive with the passing of time, which made me sad, because I needed the season. Adult cares were heaping themselves upon me, and change was becoming a frightening thing. I started to wonder if I'd dreamed those brilliant farmhouse days. My Fall exhilaration was fading as the leaves did: quickly and dispassionately along the overpopulated highways.

It was October 2006 when I arrived in Switzerland seeking refuge. It was my first trip to Europe, to which I fled to escape the change that had been ravaging my life. Interlaken may be a small town, but it boasts a long and impressive list of death-defying activities. I was happy to stick to the dangerous realm of Scootering, which was daring enough to satisfy me. But when a good-looking Australian offer to take you paragliding, it's kind of impossible to say no. Compared to canyon jumping, it seemed like a safe bet. Our van ride up the mountain was like one of my family's Blue Ridge trip on amphetamines. As we screeched around our sixth or seventh blind curve somewhere near the speed of sound, I began to wonder what I'd gotten myself into. And if I was destined to puke in the good-looking Australian's lap. Once we'd reached our destination, though, I was ready to soak in the scenery. So when Andy, the overexcited Swede strapped to my back, told me to run down the very steep hill towards the tree line, it seemed like the right thing to do. That was before I felt our collective weight being bounced around as our parachute opened and my legs barely missed the tops of the pine trees. I am no fan of heights, a fact I only remembered once my feet were thirty feet above the ground. The cold air pressed against my fearful heart.

Then, it happened: suddenly I was flying over the foliage of my childhood. Lake Brienz, a cerulean blue diamond glistening before us, was crested by a world set on fire. There were the waves of yellow, spotted and flecked with russet and burnt orange and flushed pink. Each leaf was its own revolution, rioting alongside its compatriots, streaming together while standing alone. Up there, surrounded by the most significant of nature's changes, it hit me: that thing that had always captured me about Fall's changes. Autumn always showed me that life's transitions shouldn't be a source of fear. Times of change hold a beauty all their own, filled with untrodden pathways, chances for us to grow and explore. Change allows us to open our eyes, stop looking ahead or behind, and enjoy the thrill and novelty of simply being alive.

I think the peace I found in those farmhouse days, and that moment in the Swiss Alps, had to do with much more than the beauty of the seasons. Though they were temporary, and always will be, they held a hint of the eternal. They helped to make my childhood feel unhurried. They allow me to return to it still, to rest in the understanding that the process of changing, in nature and in life, is a beautiful thing with the potential to reveal to us the most beautiful parts of ourselves. How strange to stumble back onto that knowledge so far from the mountains of my youth. How lucky.

1 comment:

  1. ohh I love you. Love that story. And I love Virginia fall time too!