When I was driving to work on a rainy Tuesday morning, I spotted something I had not expected to see quite so soon — some hints of fall color. Bits of yellow, gold and scarlet were showing among all the green. Summer’s ending soon, but the signs of fall are here already.
I’ve heard that lots of moisture helps generate good fall color, so maybe a few dismal rainy days will serve a purpose. Appalachia’s fall foliage is good for tourism, and I know that my family always enjoys it. Personally, I appreciate the beauty of autumn until the leaves start smothering the lawns and it’s time to get out the rake or the leaf blower. I’m always picking fallen leaves out of my windshield wipers, too, when autumn arrives. Finally, the autumn color is a sure sign that the white of ice and snow isn’t too far away.
Many of us have seen dozens of colorful autumns here in West Virginia and Virginia, so it’s easy to get used to the sight. We take the fall foliage for granted and wonder where we hid the rake. When autumn arrives here in southern West Virginia, I remember a person I knew during the 1980s when I was attending Marshall University.
We were both students in a special program about the Holocaust in Europe during World War II. He was from Nigeria, and when it was time to write essays about other instances of genocide, he wrote his about the tribal warfare in his own country. He was also interested in learning more about America.
Naturally, he sent pictures home to his family. They were interested in what they were seeing and wanted to learn more, but I think he saw the greatest reaction to his photos when he took some shots of the fall foliage around Huntington.
To be blunt, his family was amazed and even a little freaked out. Things like that don’t happen in Nigeria, apparently. He told me about the letters he got from home and laughed. He said they were asking things like “What’s happening?” If I’m recalling this correctly, those folks back in Nigeria thought all of our trees were dying from some kind of foliage plague. In many parts of the world, our climate and the season changes are unique.
It’s the same with winter. One time I was interviewing an exchange student from Brazil. With a smile on his face, he told me how he rushed outside with a camera one day when snow started falling. When he described what was only a flurry and nothing that would have gotten me excited, but to him that snow was something out of “Star Wars.”
The reactions I see from people who have never seen fall foliage or snow helps me appreciate the conditions we have in our region. Oh, I could do without raking leaves or trying to commute on icy roads and paying heating bills, but I do appreciate the natural beauty. My sister, Karen, and her sons A.J. and Alex, are always excited when winter arrives in West Virginia. They live down in North Carolina, so snow that’s good enough to make snowmen and snowballs is pretty rare. I can remember one time when they had a rare snow storm in the Charlotte area. Only one family in their entire neighborhood had a sled, and that’s only because those kids were from the New York state.
We always have snowball fights and build snow folks when the boys are up to visit Mom and Dad during the winter, but the boys always find ways to improve on winter activities. During one particularly deep snow, Alex built snow tunnels. He could literally go all over the front yard without being seen.
A.J. likes sledding and makes the most of the front yard. Our downward path isn’t far, but it ends with plenty of trees. A.J. likes to go full speed anyway. Karen urges him pretty forcefully to slow down, but he still skirts the edge.
“If it’s safe, it can’t be any fun,” he said with his teen wisdom.
The boys are a little less enthusiastic about autumn since the autumn leaves equal lots of raking. I don’t blame them.
I’m sure if I moved to Florida, Arizona or some other state that’s not known for fall foliage or snow, I’d get homesick pretty quickly. I know I would relearn to appreciate the local weather. Like many people in our region, I mark the passing of time with the change of the seasons. Not seeing the change of seasons would be like going without a watch. I wouldn’t know what to do. The weather does give us all reasons to groan and long for spring and summer, but it’s part of what makes this region the place it is — a place where most everyone who leaves wants to come home.
Greg Jordan is a senior news reporter for Bluefield Daily Telegraph