We were on one of our usual fall quests, the hunt for bittersweet that has been an autumn tradition for us ever since my parents used to take us along as they traveled the backroads in search of the elusive red-orange berries. Like most dedicated seekers of the hard-to-find plant, we have certain spots that we like to visit each year that have borne fruit before. We discovered that one of them--our favorite, in fact--had already been stripped bare of the viny branches, a practice I find a tiny bit annoying, as we always try to leave some behind for the next guy. But there's another place that almost never fails, partly because it's way out of the way and requires a kind of tough climb up a steep bank to get to it, but mostly, I think, because the bittersweet is generally guarded by a hearty patch of---you guessed it--poison ivy.
She's always on the lookout for the triple-leaved itch-maker, because she is highly sensitive to it. I, on the other hand, have counted myself lucky to be resistant to the oily resin that causes tiny blisters and an itchy rash in her and her fellow sufferers.
"I'll be OK, " I said. "I'll be careful."
And I was, mostly, though I admit it makes me feel kind of manly to be able to go boldly where most people fear to tread. Soon, I had clipped enough of the stuff to make a nice addition to the simple fall decor we planned for our front porch, and off we went down the next dusty road.
You know, I really do love fall.
There's nothing really earth-shattering about those feelings, as most of us enjoy the time when the air finally begins to change flavors after a dry summer and a hot August. The trees slowly alter their color. The light is somehow subdued, as the slant of the sun turns away from us and the work of the harvest fills the air with dust and chaff and deep red sunsets.
It's a time of astonishing beauty, especially, I think, here in the midwest, where rolling golden fields blend with subtly turning trees and bluer than blue skies to create a canvas no one can really ever capture, except in a mind's eye.
For us, it's been kind of a quick visit to the place we call home and the season of autumn.
We had things we needed to do and people we wanted to see. And we looked forward to the sweet season of new light and changed color that always beckons, no matter where we travel. We've taken full advantage of the joys of this time of year, with daytrips to orchards and pumpkin patches and the winding country roads that connect them if you know where to turn. We spent idyllic days in the Bishop HIll Colony, where part of my family arrived some 167 years ago before a harsh winter that nearly ended their dreams before they fully began. We traveled to LaPrairie Township and the beautiful blue ridge region near the border between Marshall and Peoria Counties, where my Scots-Irish forbearers first settled when they came west from Pennsylvania after the Civil War. We've struggled to keep up with an unexpected bounty from the apple tree in our side yard which, after years and years of little fruit worth worrying about, has suddenly decided to produce more apples than we can possibly use, even with the help of friends, neighbors and neighborhood grandkids.
But most of all, we've just enjoyed it. And while grandson soccer games and yet-to-be hatched baby turtles will soon call us back to our other life on the North Carolina shore, we will relish and remember the times we spent this year.
As it is everywhere, it is a time of unfailing anticipation. Of joy and disappointment, rest and renewal. Of delicate change made lovely by golden light and gentle currents.
Oh, and one more thing.
I felt something strange on my arm a couple of days ago. I looked, and saw something unexpected. An itchy rash and a row of tiny blisters. It looks like it might be spreading, even. So, I guess even I changed this year. And so it goes.
It is the fall of the year, when seasons transform and we wait for something new.
Even with poison ivy, it's worth the trip.
It always is.