Thursday, September 20, 2012

In the fall of the year

I guess some journeys make more sense than others.
Because even I, the ultimate mindless meanderer, know that North Carolina is not exactly on the way to Texas when you start in Illinois. Texas is where we've got to be on Columbus Day weekend, so I suppose it might have seemed sensible to just stay put in my hometown of Galva, where we had been since mid-August, until it was time to head southwest.
But the lure of the road, an opportunity for a bit of early fall camping, and a chance to spend time with our youngest grandsons while enjoying the beginnings of autumn on our beloved Carolina beach was too much for the both of us, so off we went.
Besides, I had had just about enough the latest round of chores and projects that always await me in the big old house we call home.
Because here's the thing--Pavlov could have learned a thing or two from my spouse.
You know, Pavlov, the famous Russian physiologist, best known for the experiment where he rang a bell right before he fed his two dogs. After a while, the dogs learned to associate the bell with their dinner, and would salivate anytime they heard it.
This kind of "conditioned response," as it's called, can be triggered in any number of ways, including eating and other pleasurable acts, pain and punishment, or, in the case of the experiment recently performed on yours truly, extreme overwork. Given a chance to drop my paint brush, put away the steel wool, scrapers and cans of chemical stripper, desert my dustpan and finally emerge from the basement, I behaved in a predictable fashion.
She: Do you want to head for the beach and sit in the sun, or would you rather keep cleaning the basement?
Me: Get in the car.
The resulting southeastern migration included an overnight camping stop at a Kentucky State Park featuring the works of naturalist John James Audubon, where she clearly recalls spending time with her parents more than a half-century ago; plus an unheard-of two nights of happy tenting in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when it--believe it or not--did not rain a drop.  We expected the park to be nearly empty for our visit, since Labor Day has passed and school has started, while the fall colors have yet to burst and begin attracting droves of color-tour tourists. But we're not the only ones to figure out that September is prime time for camping and hiking, so we shared those lovely surroundings with an equal measure of outward bound empty-nesters, like us, and young camp-crazy couples with toddling pre-school kids, like we used to be.
Like most places in our hemisphere, the Carolina shore is a wonderful place to be in the fall of the year. Hurricane season is not yet over, so the weather can be a bit unsettled at times. But for the most part, the same kind of  autumn changes that begin to appear in other parts of the country happen here, too.
Temperatures have begun to moderate, meaning our windows are wide open to welcome both southern sea breezes and the northerly winds of a new season.  Gliding scoops of pelicans have returned with the lower temperatures, along with a renewed abundance of sea life that has us anxiously waiting for a sight of the leaping pods of fish-hunting dolphins that are sure to come soon.  The nests of sea turtles that have been carefully marked and protected have mostly hatched, now, leaving just a few late ones to watch and nurture. Instead of Illinois farmers hopefully gathering grain at the end of a dangerous, stressful midwest growing season, we wait and wonder while our friend who owns the thousand-foot fishing pier just down the beach looks toward the few make-or-break weeks of frenetic fishing for spot and other seasonal species that will, hopefully,  spell his success and survival for another year.  Likewise, we now see shrimpers, fishermen and oystermen beginning to pursue the rich harvest that both the deep sea and marshy backwaters have to offer as cooler water generates livelier life in ocean and inlet.
As it is everywhere, it is a time of great anticipation. Of joy and disappointment, rest and renewal. Of subtle change made beautiful by soft light and gentle currents.
It is the fall of the year, when seasons change.
It's worth the trip.

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