Change is in the air.sumac

The first yellow leaves have peeked through on the walnut trees, some of the first to turn. Down lower, at the side of the road, a few sumac leaves have turned red, a bright shade that catches your eye even as you speed by.

Overhead, the sky is a lighter blue, a different shade from that of summer when it can turn white from heat. The clouds look like dirty wool, their flat bottoms gray, white on their puffy tops as they tower into the heights. Look off across the hills and their shadows turn the landscape into a fall shadowsstudy in light and dark that makes your heart beat a little faster and brings a smile to your lips.

Higher up yet, the sun shines, its light gentler. It lies on the land like liquid gold, especially in the early and late hours, throwing cool shadows across the road, shadows that move in the cool breeze.

And that breeze feels different, too. It carries a sensation of relief, as if nature is taking a deep, relaxing breath and luxuriating in the release from summer’s brazen heat and merciless sun. Scents waft on that breeze, too, scents of autumn that are hard to name, hard to pin down, but always welcome, scents that are heady as a drink of cool wine but far more satisfying.

Even the grass is getting in on the act. Look out in the hayfields and you see tall stalks with purple at the top, a deep maroon shade that makes the field look like a royal cloak. Some of the weeds have dry seed pods that wave and rattle in the breeze, adding to the birdsong and chorus of crickets going all day and night, a lonely yet comforting sound that speaks of rest and enjoying a good fire of an evening.

At night, the stars shine brighter, turning the trees into gently moving silhouettes that stand out black against the gray of starlight. Out among those trees, you hear the chuckle of a nearby creek, the water trickling and laughing over rocks, carrying the first colored leaves in a gentle voyage to somewhere else.

Magic floats in the air, one that gets in your blood and makes you smile. Squirrels scamper around, storing nuts for the winter, and you get glimpses of deer in the woodsDeer, some of them topped with magnificent antlers, their heads bobbing up and down as they browse acorns from the forest floor, their white tails flashing like lights through the trees.

If you look close, all those trees have begun a subtle change. Where in summer they were a deep, uniform green, now they’re showing variations on a theme, just as they did in the spring, though not so obvious. Some are lighter than others, and the cedars are darker than ever. If you listen closely, you might hear their joyous laughter in the breeze, the kind of laughter you hear among friends of an evening before rest.

Soon, the leaves will fall, the trees will be bare. Geese will honk overhead as they flee the encroaching cold. Birdsong will disappear from the air and the skies will turn gray, feeling that way even on the clearest day. Winter has its unique beauty as well, but it doesn’t hold a candle to that of autumn. From the last songs of summer birds to the echo of a chainsaw deep in the woods as someone stocks up on firewood, from seeing a hawk cruise overhead, fleecy gray clouds for a backdrop, to watching a chipmunk perch on a log surrounded by a riot of fall colors, this is a special time of year like no other.

Oconaluftee-ValleyEnjoy it, revel in it. Autumnlight is far too brief.



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