Autumn is the seasonal gala, when nature adorns herself in a flash of warm color before falling asleep under a blanket of winter.
Ellie and I were both asleep last Autumn. She was too young to see the sunset of falling leaves, and I was too ill to go outside and revel in my favorite season.
We take walks most days. We see turkey and deer and chipmunks. She points and grunts behind her binkie.
She loves to be outside, to unearth the acorns half-buried in the driveway. She grabs sticks with leaves attached and shakes them like a wand covered in ribbons and bells.
I pick up leaves from the cool pavement and dewed grass. I show her the varied colors and shapes. I hand her newts and caterpillars.
I’m not entirely accustomed to the rural feel of life out here, but I begin to see the draw when I’m standing beneath a canopy of mottled leaves, or marveling at the color and texture in one patch of moss.
Summer is long over. The lingering days of warmth faded into an early morning chill that warned of autumn creeping over nature.
If summer is the peak of warmth and winter the peak of cold, then autumn and spring are the transitional seasons. The tweeners. I don’t particularly like being hot because I love tea and fuzzy socks and warm blankets and cuddling in my husband’s sweat shirts. So as beautiful as summer is, with lazy warm days at the shore under sunny blue skies, it’s still not my favorite season. Since I like the cold, I’m more drawn to winter. The catch is that I’m not a huge fan of snow. I think it’s because it often dumps from the sky in such huge quantities that I become a prisoner in my own house. This strange claustrophobia makes less sense when you understand my habits. Some days I barely leave my house for writing and reading all day. I think it’s just the mental block of an outside force controlling my ability to do as I please.
There is beauty in every season, but fall is probably my favorite. Fall is a fading from summers heat into a sigh of cool breezes. The stark beauty of green bursts forth into a myriad of color. Red, orange, yellow, and brown, with pops of purple and pink. I love when the breeze blows and the leaves flutter and dip to the ground like raindrops to cover the dying grass. It’s like the trees are knitting their foliage into a blanket to cover their toes against the coming snow.
I love walking in fall. I love the sound of dry leaves scraping and clicking as the wind sends them skipping across the pavement. I love the smells of earth which seems accentuated with the cooling temperature.
I’ve been more awake this year to the changing seasons. There’s probably many reasons for that. Sometimes I think it’s because we moved to a more rural area. Or maybe it’s because of my husband’s job change, giving us more chance to spend time outside. I think those things help, but more than that I think it’s because I want to be awake now. The more I grow, the more I realize how much of my life I’ve spent asleep. Now my eyes are open, and I don’t want to miss a thing.
Not one color. Not one scent. Not one fallen leaf.
Growing up, my mother used to tell me stories about people who went on nature walks. They usually ended with small children huddled together against the cold in an abandoned car, while the parent wandered boldly to his death in the mountains, searching for help. These stories were probably meant to instruct me to make wise decisions. Instead they created in me a festering fear of anything hiking. If someone said to me, “Come visit me in North Carolina. We’ll go hiking. It’s absolutely gorgeous here,” I would titter nervously while I silently imagined myself wandering half starved through the trees, my voice too hoarse to scream for help.
I’ve been on a journey during the past year of facing my fears head on. I started small and have been gradually building up. Tuesday, October 20th was the day Timothy and I tackled my fear of hiking. We packed up my lime green backpack with three water bottles, charged our cellphones so we could take pictures, and filled a ziplock baggie with snacks. I laced up my new black and hot pink sneakers, waved goodbye to friends and family, then hopped somberly into the car. We drove 50 minutes to a trail in the Delaware Water Gap called “Tumbling Waters.” I’d never seen a real waterfall. I mean I’ve been to Niagara falls, but to me that hardly counts. Niagara is a deafening deluge of power. It needs a name bigger than waterfall, like Grandiosely Majestic Deluge Of Death Or Something (GMDODOS for short). Basically, I had never seen a naturally occurring stream trickle magically down into a pool of shining water. I hoped this light at the end of the tunnel would provide me extra incentive to complete the three mile loop.
It was a perfect day; too warm really to need a sweat shirt, but cool enough that we weren’t wiping sweat from our eyes. I didn’t see a single insect. The sky was cloudless and the sun was bright, shooting rays of light through the trees to illuminate the acorns, pine needles, rocks, and fallen leaves. Autumn is my favorite season and it was still early enough that half the trees had yet to turn. This made the landscape a delicious pallet of orange, yellow, red, and purple to accent the fresh green of life. The air smelled clean and fresh and of dirt and late October. I heard blue jays and saw chipmunks.
And I got so freaked out I nearly turned back…
About a mile in, I began to get dizzy. Not an oh-no-I-think-I’m-sick dizzy, but an oh-no-I-can’t-see-the-road dizzy; an oh-no-are-you-sure-we’re-not-hopelessly-lost-ohmygoshIcan’tbreathe dizzy.
I swallowed and said in a chipper voice, “Buppy? You said the waterfall is the half way point, right?”
He smiled at me, “Yep.” He was totally in his element, arms swinging merrily at his sides. Outside, fresh air, exercise, and my hand in his. What more could a man want?
I nodded. “So…uhh…how much farther to the waterfall?”
“We’re about halfway there.”
“How long have we been walking?”
“About thirty minutes.”
My head began to spin and my breath quickened. Visions of forever wandering in the barren wilderness began to dance in my head. “Can we sit down for a minute?”
“Of course.” We plopped onto a nearby rock and I broke down. I said many things, but the gist of it was, “I’m scared. Are we lost? How can you be sure? Can we go back? Take me home.” Timmy held my hand until the panic attack passed. I swallowed my fear and told myself that I could do this and if I didn’t I was just feeding the lies that had taken root in my brain.
We got up and finished the hike. I managed to keep my fears at bay, only regularly reminding Timothy to look out for rattlesnakes and copperheads. Now, I can’t wait to go hiking again. I loved it. All of it. Including the panic attack. 😉
All of the photos here are from our trip. I’m not a photographer, but sometimes nature is, in and of itself, so photogenic that no matter the angle, or how inept you are, the image is still spectacular. Here’s a few more of my favorites.