I thought maybe we missed it.
I had yet to hear just what the effects of a year-long midwest drought might be on autumn colors and conditions. Would the leaves be pretty? Would they stay on the trees for more than a day or two?
Would it be fall at all?
We spend most of September enjoying the nicest possible late-summer weather on Topsail Island, the North Carolina beach spot where we spend time hanging out with grandkids and perfecting a lifestyle as semi-professional beach bums. When it was time to come home to the midwest, we selected a round-about route south to Florida, along the Gulf Coast and up into central Texas in order to visit a few family members and hang out with a happy bunch of her high school classmates who participate in a moveable feast of yearly get-togethers across the country.
It was, in her words, "a cool swing" that kind of inspired me to someday try and orbit the Continental U.S. by circumnavigating the entire outside border of the 48 states. But fall never really comes to Florida and the Gulf States, nor does it touch central and southern Texas in the way in which we're accustomed.
It would have to wait for our northward trek towards home.
We left the Lone Star State determined to make some significant progress on the nearly 900 miles of the last leg of our journey. So, unlike many of our wandering routes, we spent most that first day in an anxious effort to get closer to home, traveling mostly along interstates and other four-lane thruways. with just one not-so-short "shortcut" through part of the North Texas region called horse country that gave us a truer taste of that southwestern region.
"It's like we're in the land of the homemade sign," she said, as we whirred passed hand-painted markers for iconic, special-sounding spots like Chubby's Beer Barn and Stumpy's Produce and Tortillas.
"Must be a lot of short, stocky guys in business hereabouts," I thought.
We made it nearly 600 miles that day, to Rolla, Missouri, not far from the World's Largest Rocking Chair just up the road in Cuba.
Thinking we had paid our dues with our headlong dash through Texas and Oklahoma, we left the superhighways once and for all the next morning, heading north on a winding, scenic state road called Route 19.
Then it happened.
All around us, there was a sudden, yet subtle shift from green to gold, interspersed by bright-brilliant leaf-bombs of red and orange.
"Look," she said, pointing excitedly. "Look."
"Yes," I echoed. "Look."
Because, suddenly, it was fall.
The change of seasons continued to burst forth along a meandering track that took us through the Missouri wine country towns of Owensville, Drake and Hermann, and into the western Mississippi Valley via places like Montgomery City, Bowling Green and a little gem of a river town called Louisiana.
Finally in Illinois, we traveled along the Illinois River valley before heading north at Lewistown, then cross-country past Gilson, Dahinda and Victoria.
It was still daylight when we pulled into our driveway. The trees in the park and down the street were softly colored, muted by the late-afternoon sun. The giant Pin Oak across the street displayed the beginning streaks of the reddish-goldish hue that, most often, blossoms into the last valiant splash of color before winter finally falls.
The leaves were pretty.
The leaves were still on the trees.
"Look. It's fall," she said. "I think it waited for us."
I kind of think she's right.