Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Peak autumn in Carolinia

There's a moss-covered stone wall near the intersection of Rosemary and Hillsborough and I am sitting on it. Early November is the time of autumn glory for Chapel Hill. All overhead is crimson and golden against the backdrop of deep cloudless blue sky. Jacket weather in the shade, basking weather in the sun. Crisp, cool air, smells of fallen oak and maple leaves, and I just saw a squirrel run by with a whole cluster of green hickory nuts popping out of its mouth like a giant green beard and mustaches. I was surprised to pass an osage orange tree on my way to this spot, something I haven't seen in many years and not since I moved to the south. Osage oranges resemble grapefruit-sized green brains, and these bright green brains were strewn liberally on the moss and grass under the tree. 

Among the towns of the south, Chapel Hill feels the most like the places of the Mid-Atlantic and New England where I grew up and went to college. The buildings of the UNC campus and surrounding environs are old, and I like old very much. I grew up in a home dating from 1830 or so on a street with even older homes in a town founded sometime in the 1700s.  Ivy, moss, tall trees with thick trunks, old decorative hardware on doors and drafty windows, creaking wood floors and the smell of wood smoke on a chilly morning are the comforting feelings of home.

There are two crows in one of the tall golden maples across the street, high on the very top branches, surveying, watching, calling to other crows at the tops of other trees that I can't see. Crows really are the watchmen of the animal world. Other species of birds understand crow calls, as do the furry, four-footed creatures. When crows sound a warning, other birds take up the alarm and pass it along, diving into dense bushes where larger birds of prey cannot reach them, or up high out of the reach of a fox or cat. Squirrels chatter in a great chorus and the predator slinking along below knows they've been had. 

I'm here in this spot completely by chance. As I left a friend's house this morning, I spontaneously decided to take a walk in the beautiful morning instead of getting in my car and going straight to the grocery store. My life is so full of worries and stresses these days, with people close to me spending far too much time in medical sorts of places or at home in bed in pain. Wandering and looking, being present among sun-dappled reddening shrubs and clusters of delicate, lacy brown flowers leftover from summer, breathing deeply of a kind of air that only seems to exist on sunny cool days in autumn… I can't remember when I did this last, but I'm glad I'm here.

These moments are a gift from my Shepherd who leads me beside still waters and makes me lie down in green pastures. He knows sheep can't go running around at top speed navigating mucky bogs and foggy moors for very long. I'm thankful for this rest and beauty that He has carved out for me. I'm memorizing and imprinting images and sounds and smells into my brain to be drawn upon later. This burnished hydrangea pouring over the stone wall ahead of me, drenched in light, the brick walls of the church beyond, the lichen-covered thick arms of an oak that clearly sprouted long before the Civil War, the ringing sounds of hammers and 2x4s being knocked against each other somewhere nearby, bluejay calling, cardinal pairs talking to each other, cars going by and even a few still-living insects humming in grass… I'm downloading everything so I can come back here when I'm forced to sit waiting somewhere, indoors, in a place I don't want to be.

It worked. As I finish writing this I am now sitting in my favorite chair at home, late at night, but the details of the time I spent walking and looking and lying on the wall and smelling and listening- I have it all right here clear and sharp and sparkling when I close my eyes.

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