seven eight

Sweating through sweatshirt
But shivering in shadows
That October sun


Today I stood in line to vote. It’s chilly – when in the summer we kept the door between the kitchen and the rest of the apartment closed to keep the heat out, now we’ve started closing it to keep out the cold. I didn’t wear a coat, but it was brisk enough for a sweatshirt. While I was standing in line outside the senior center where early voting is being held, the strong autumn sun beat down on our civically-minded heads. My upper body started to sweat, and I heard a couple older ladies talking behind me. I began counting syllables. “It’s hot out!” and, “That October sun… I like it.”


waiting for Ginkgo’s
bright yellow Autumn display –
lemon drop cascade


Last week a friend and I took an extended afternoon walk together around the residential areas of town, down by the water. Despite having lived here for about five years, he showed me some streets I had never walked down before. We spent quite some time sitting at a quiet little park at the end of one of the roads, watching ducks and other birds take off and land on the water, and judging the architectural successes and failures of the expensive waterfront houses.

One of the roads I had been down before. I remember it because there’s a house with an enormous ginkgo tree in its back yard. A couple years back my partner and I came across it right during its turning time, probably sometime in November. A strange thing about ginkgoes is that their leaves turn all at once from dark, deep green, to slightly paler green, to brilliant yellow. It’s very easy to miss, but we caught it that year at the optimal time. The branches of this tree extend over the entire yard, and its leaves, once entirely yellow, fell in a solid yellow carpet over the yard, the road, and even a few roads over.

But when my friend and I walked by last week, the leaves were only just turning an anemic sort of green. I tried to describe the golden scene to him, and I think I failed, as I am failing now, so I’ll leave you all with an encouragement to find a ginkgo tree in your area this fall, or at the very least google “ginkgo yellow”, and you will see what I can’t seem to describe. Perhaps rereading the haiku will help.

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skyline

Yesterday, my partner and I took a day trip to Shenandoah National Park. I usually work Saturdays and often work Sundays, but I had this Sunday off and spent all week stalking the weather, hoping it would be a good day to drive through the mountains. We had rain earlier in the weekend, but Sunday’s forecast was perfect: sunny, windy (to keep the clouds away), and 50s.

The last time we made a trip to check out Shenandoah was last October. I mentioned before that this was our “hurricamping” trip – one very cold, wet, and gusty night at the Lewis Mountain campground, followed by about 60 miles of driving and stopping at every scenic overlook just to see a breathtaking wall of solid, white fog.

Here is a taste of what hurricamping looks like:

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“I’m gonna look rugged and awesome.” -Ethan
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“Nature cares not of fashion.” -Leslie
The one brilliant thing about hurricamping is that very few people want to do it. And that’s enough make me want to do it. However, most people do want to enjoy natural beauty when it’s sunny and clear (you know, when you can actually see what’s surrounding you), so we had to mentally prepare ourselves for a much more populated experience.  But I was determined to see the vistas we had missed last year, so I got up (relatively) early, made coffee, packed a couple tuna sandwiches, and layered up, though not quite as dramatically this time.

Despite my best intentions and a moderate amount of effort, we didn’t arrive until nearly 11:00. By then, we had already been following a line of cars with the same day trip idea for about ten minutes. Within the first few miles, most of those cars had pulled off at one of the scenic overlooks, but we cruised by, hoping to find a spot with fewer people. Our plan worked fairly well, and we soon found some overlooks with enough wiggle room.I don’t want to sound snobby, but I honestly was disappointed. The drastic drops were pretty cool, but there was not nearly as much color as I expected for late October, and most of the overlooks overlooked shitty Virginian houses instead of wild land. The map said that there were rivers running throughout, but we didn’t see any water except a couple of irrigation ponds.

We decided swallow our distaste for crowds and find somewhere to take a short hike. We ended up at the Upper Hawksbill trail and parked in the grass on the side of the road because the lot was full. The hike really was short, and it should’ve been easy too, but being accustomed to the oxygen-rich life at around 39 feet above sea level, we huffed and puffed our way to the highest peak in the park, elevation 4,049′. Despite the lack of oxygen, the air was clean and smelled sweetly of decaying leaves. The view at the summit was nice, although again, disappointing foliage, but I pretended the town below was covered in a big lake, and that made it really quite beautiful. A daring Bichon Frise walked right up to the edge of the mountain and sniffed its approval.

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The summit of Hawksbill Mountain, highest peak in Shenandoah National Park. Not pictured: ugly towns to the left.
Although I was generally unimpressed with the vistas, I must admit the drive itself was lovely. We saw many trees with bright yellow leaves along the way, and when the sun hit them just right, the effect was stunning. The sky was blue, the air was cold and fresh, and the ground wasn’t flat. There was ledge, there were trees, the milkweed was silky and putting to seed.

I refuse to lower my expectations for beauty, mostly because I do know it is out there, because I’ve seen it and I know others have, too. If it were at every turn, I would probably stop chasing it. But I don’t mind looking around, seeing the failures of what’s before me, but also accepting the triumphs.

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At one of the overlooks. Me, happily plagued by wind; Ethan, happily plagued by sun. Both, enjoying the Blue Ridge Mountains.

frost

 

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I opened my eyes to slivers this morning and, despite already knowing the answer, mumbled, “Did it snow?”

It’s October 13th in coastal Mid Atlantic, so no, of course it didn’t snow. I doubt it even got as cold as 50 overnight, let alone freezing, but I imagined peeking through the blinds to see a white dusting covering the lawn and fence and branches. I’m about two months ahead of myself for my locale, and I’m guessing that many of you don’t want to hear about winter just yet (wasn’t my last post about savoring fall?), but it’s what’s on my mind now that the [somewhat] chilly mornings have arrived. Maybe my imagination was influenced by pulling my winter clothes out of storage the day before, or by buying two new sweaters, or by seeing pictures of first snows elsewhere in the country, or by hearing my mom report that the first frost is supposed to happen this week at my parents’ house in New England.

For the most part, I hated winter when I was younger. Layers were bulky and accentuated my flatchestedness, so I often ditched them in favor of being cold. Dressing for the elements could take up to fifteen minutes, and Lord help you if you realized you had to pee once the snowsuit was on. The harsh wind and blowing snow burned my cheeks and made my eyes water. My lips and hands would become cracked and scaly, and it didn’t matter how many times I applied lotion or Vaseline – they would still bleed. But perhaps worst of all, after breathing the bone-dry air all night, I would wake up every morning with a devastatingly sore throat, four to five months out of the year.

On school mornings, my mom would wake me up. Judging from the numbness of my nose, I knew the bedroom air was sharp and cold, and I dreaded leaving the covers because I knew all that was waiting for me was a cold wooden floor and a cold, stiff outfit. So my mom would stick my clothes for the day under the covers with me and come back again in a few minutes to persuade me to get up once the clothes were warmed.

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My pre-waking brain this morning recognized an old and unwelcome sensation – that dry, raspy, uncomfortable feeling in my throat. But before I even realized I was in pain, my first reaction was to think, It snowed. I was simultaneously convinced of this as fact and cognizant of the near impossibility that this was indeed fact, but the association was powerful.

Setting aside the many nuisances of cold weather, I’m always happy to see a thick morning frost on the ground or to wake to find that it has snowed overnight. The phrase “blanket of snow” is fitting. Most obviously, it covers. But it also brings comfort to an otherwise bland and dead season. It softens the landscape. Yes, I’ll eventually have to shovel it. It’ll turn dull and grey. I’ll have to clear off my car with a poorly made tool and start the engine twenty minutes early. But when the snow is newly spread and untouched, I feel as though I have been tucked into bed with crisp, clean sheets.

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Nephews enjoying the first snow a couple years ago. (Photo credit: Mom)