Autumn in Appalachia
It’s autumn in Appalachia.
For those of you who live here, you know what that means.
Hillsides and mountain slopes ablaze with color. Crisp, cool days. Daylight coming in at sharp angles as our part of the earth rotates away from the sun in the celestial dance of the ages.
It’s like the world is taking a deep, cleansing breath just before going dormant for a much-needed rest.
A mystical time
Here in the oldest mountains in the world, fall is a mystical time. It awakens old folk tales and songs from the hills.
Perhaps more than any other season, the onset of fall in many ways defines the Appalachian identity.
Our connection with the earth seems just a little more intimate this time of year.
Maybe it’s because it represents the ancestral gathering of the final bounties of the land from the past year and preparation of the soil for the next one.
Maybe it’s that indescribable aroma on the wind as leaves begin to fall and metamorphose into dirt.
Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of warm afternoons and chilly evenings that heighten our senses and make us just a little more aware of where we all fit in the natural rhythms that, try as we might, we can never undo.
A time for mystics
If there are spirits in the wind, woods, and waters, they must certainly be most active in the fall.
You can feel them when you walk through the woods, or stand at the edge of a canyon lined by vibrant hues of red, yellow, gold, auburn, and the last bit of green trying desperately to cling to summer’s glory.
You can hear them singing in mountain streams where every gust of wind raises a chorus against the steady sound of rushing water, uttering ancient incantations that draw you out of yourself and into their realm where each moment seems to contain all of eternity.
And if you stop, and just be still, they might sit down beside you, and tell you all their secrets.
Winter is coming
But along with the brilliant displays of the hills and the joyous refrains of their people, there’s a melancholy that adds depth to how we experience fall in these parts.
As the days grow shorter, an urgency sets in, borne of the sure knowledge that winter is close at hand. That all of this sensory beauty is about to go silent for awhile, and we don’t want to waste a second of it.
We take to the woods and the mountains to walk amongst their spirits one last time before the coming cold and darkness forces us into our own sort of hibernation.
Already, we’re beginning to long for spring to arrive.
A dance of angst and hope
This year, the coming of fall has found me in a particularly introspective mood.
The existential angst of 18 months of global pandemic and self-imposed isolation, heightened social tensions, and near-continual waves of spiritual deconstruction and reconstruction has left me—like many of you—thoroughly exhausted.
So even as I embrace and enjoy the magic of autumn in Appalachia, my soul is yearning for those spirits of the woods and waters not to rush away too quickly, to linger just awhile longer, to sing their songs, to tell their secrets.
And maybe, somehow, to give us a little hope.
Feature image: Dry Fork Valley, Tucker County, WV, Oct. 23 2019 (Photo by Joe Webb. All rights reserved.)