It’s been a challenging fall.
Some would even call it nasty.
Wet, cool weather has put our farmer friends at the brink of disaster, while the same stuff has recently made my weekly job prowling the sidelines at high school football games less fun than it ought to be. We had such a delightful spell of late-summer/early-fall weather, that the “November in October” conditions we’ve lately experienced have been disappointing, even depressing, from time to time.
But there are exceptions.
Take last Sunday, for example. The sun came out.
You remember the sun, don’t you? It’s that bright star located just under 93 million miles from us, providing most of the earth’s energy in the form of sunlight.
It’s no big surprise that a sudden influx of that amazing light would have an effect on my energy, as well. I was raring to go...somewhere.
My co-pilot had already been battling flu-like symptoms for the better part of a week. But, probably just to please me, she indicated a day enjoying a glimpse of beautiful fall weather would be more beneficial than one spent in bed with a mug filled with TheraFlu. The bug squelched any thoughts of backwoods bike rides or hilly hikes, or even much in the way of shopping, dining or other pursuits. But a fall color tour via car seemed just right. We had already attended church the night before, so, with a hearty hi-ho Silver and a note for the cat (who was sleeping when we left) we hit the road again.
As with many of our trips, the destination was vague, but I had an inkling that north was the direction I wanted to take. County cops, farmers and sportswriters seem to share a knowledge of where certain blacktops and country roads can take you, as often, the main road is far from the shortest or prettiest route. We would, I thought, take the blacktop out of Galva to and through Atkinson, wind our way northeast to Erie, then follow yet another back road to Albany, on the mighty Mississippi River. From there, we would follow the river road to Galena, a beautiful little town perched on a high hillside overlooking a once-busy river. My meandering back-roads route actually trimmed a few miles from the “normal” directions, though it probably didn’t save a lick of time. But that’s not the point. A drive is only long if you spend it worrying about getting where you’re going. The trick is to savor every bend and twist, every view and vista, every sight and every sound.
There’s a special little trick the light plays in fall. Even full sunlight has a soft, flat feel to it that, in turn, mutes even the most brilliantly red, gold and orange leaves into a new set of colors that no photograph or picture postcard ever captures. The beginning of harvest added contours and casts that belied the green growth that covered those fields just weeks before. Tiny cattle dotted a far-below pasture as we gazed at trees and farms and meadows and fields from an overlook high above.
“Look,” we said, over and over.
We finally reached Galena. The bustling lead mining capital, river port and railway center of the mid-1800’s is now a popular tourist destination. Happily, either through good luck, good sense or good zoning, much of the wonderful architecture of downtown Galena and its surrounding neighborhoods remains intact. We poked around for an hour or two, stepping into a couple of galleries and museums, but mostly just moving slow and enjoying the sights of the little town President Ulysses S. Grant once called home.
The nice thing, though, was just as we had felt no particular pressure to get there, we likewise felt no need to stay overlong. As the shadows began to lengthen into mid-afternoon, we started home. The light had changed, once again, so that those autumn leaves took on a deep, rich purplish cast. The sun set low and slow as we wandered our way back home. Just as we approached Galva, a few raindrops spattered our windshield.
There are a lot of things I’d like to do with the rest of my life. I want to live in a houseboat somewhere warm and a cabin where there’s a lot of snow. I want to look and see this entire country of ours, and other countries, too. I want to visit the places my grandparents and great-grandparents left to come to American. I want to see my children enjoy their fondest dreams. I want to see my grandchildren grow.
But, as a part of it all, I want more days like the soft, sweet days of autumn.
Those days when we say “Look,” over and over again.