Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving, autumnal musings

These last weeks have been ripe with change and transition, as befits autumn in Appalachia.  It's apple season in the Virginia highlands, and I've been enjoying a number of local varieties, my favorites being Winesaps and Virginia Golden Delicious. (I explored Virginia apples a few years ago in this blog.)  Betraying my ongoing dalliance with all that poetry I read in school, this time of year always brings the first verse of John Keats' "Ode to Autumn" to mind: 
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
        To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
        For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Waning sunlight and shadows on the neighbor's leafy yard.
For those of us who dwell in suburbia, one seasonal rite is the Annual Gathering and Associated Disposing of Unwanted Leaves. Raking and leaf-blowing (oh, the incessant whirring and whining of leaf blowers!) are common ways to move these leafy items from one part of one's property to another, often for gathering and disposal by municipal authorities. A walk around the block yesterday revealed various methods of getting this done, from hiring professional services (two were toiling on our block yesterday) to more traditional methods, such as sending your high-school aged child out to rake while, it seems, scowling. I'm pretty lazy on this matter - I save the last lawn-mowing to as late as possible, then mulch all the leaves into the grass.

Leaves on our street awaiting removal by civil servants.
Raking also brings another poem to mind, this time Robert Frost's "Gathering Leaves," which seems to address the futility of this task with a bit of whimsy:
Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight;
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?
To really get to see the leaves on the ground, there's no better place than out in the woods.  It's been a good season for hiking through the Appalachian forests - the weather has been pleasantly cool and the leafless trees let your gaze fall upon the hillsides and valleys, revealing the mountains' consistently engaging shapes.  We ventured to North Creek a few weeks ago, a beautiful creekside trail that eventually leads to Apple Orchard Falls.

Barrie and Asta on the trail. The creek's on the right.
Your basic autumnal maple leaf photo.  Can't resist 'em!
Barrie on the bridge, with Asta frolicking in the water below.
Forest floor study: Rock, fern, leaves, sticks.
 Asta runs and runs and runs while we hike.
The next two photos were subjected to some post-processing to add texture and a bit of distortion to emulate painting on canvas. Or at least that was the plan.

Sunlight on the trail.
Apple Orchard Falls trail head, treated photo.
It's been a fall of transition, as noted above. We lost our good friend Dr. Jane Fagg a few weeks ago. Some close friends lost their beloved Corgi a few days ago, and today, Thanksgiving, is the 10th anniversary of my father's death.

Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Moss Hill, NC
Jane was buried beside her husband Dan, at their family cemetery in Eastern NC.  Her service was held in Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in Moss Hill, NC.  This church belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina, the same Diocese that's home to the churches my father's family has attended for centuries. While I no longer attend the Episcopal church, my roots in the denomination run deep, especially in eastern NC where my grandfather funded and built a small Episcopal church in the town of Speed, NC.

It was good to return to the coastal plain of NC, a place filled with memories and the faint calling of long-departed relatives. Like my parents, who left Eastern NC when they were married in 1946, this part of the world is where my families are from, but not where I chose to live. While it's always meaningful and important to walk in the part of the world where my ancestral roots run deepest, it also made me thankful to head back to the mountains, to the place we've chosen to call home.