Going Home

This was shot about a week ago at the Charlottesville Bus Terminal which is at the east end of the Downtown Mall–the place I can’t seem to escape from photographically.

I don’t know why but as I was editing this image I somehow got the feeling the tall guy walking was going home after some sort of unhappy if not tragic experience.

Those of you who are regulars to this site know I appreciate very much where I live—beautiful Fluvanna County, Virginia. But you regulars also know I grew up in a place very unlike this area—the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York. There are a lot of differences between here and there—social, cultural, economic, and geographical. I’ll talk here about a few differences but a discussion that would do the topic justice would be at least a post in itself.

I’m quite happy here and generally have no desire to go back (other than for family visits) except for one time of the year—and that time is now.

Something wonderful happened 2 weeks ago—September arrived.

Summers in the American south can be pretty uncomfortable—there are a lot of days it hits a hundred degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). This last summer was hotter than most. But every year—no matter what kind of summer we had—when the calendar says it is now September,  I rejoice. September means fall is in the offing and the worst is past—we are over the hump.

Let all creatures great and small rejoice. September is here and fall is upon us.

But–this is the one time of year I would most like to be “Going home.” (Winter is the least :) )

Fall in this part of the United Sates is beautiful but fall in “Upstate” (as we old-timers call it–leaving off the “New York”)  is magic. Sunny days during an upstate fall sparkle and crackle. Light and shadow have a crisp edge, the air—especially at higher elevations—is the cleanest I’ve ever inhaled—every breath seems to energize and uplift the senses. The skies are an electric blue and fall colors—the Oaks and Maples—against a sky like that in late afternoon, seem surreal—almost impossibly brilliant.

Cloudy fall days in Upstate—especially when a light rain is falling—are mystical if a bit depressing. The yellow and gold leaves falling to the wet earth—plastering against sidewalks, stone walls and shed roofs exude a sort of beatific melancholy that brings you into silent communion with the endless cycle of the seasons. In those moments of soothing contemplation one feels very much at peace with the whole birth-death-rebirth experience. I have often thought if I could choose the season of my death it would absolutely be the last days of fall—those days when only a few leaves remain—stubborn and brilliant—on bare branches while skies to the north darken and impending snow can be tasted like a metallic tonic  in the back of your throat when you inhale deeply.

Fall anywhere there are four distinct seasons—is a time of relief, completion and reflection. But in Upstate,  quiet moments in the lonely fall countryside and mountains seem to deepen the soul’s capacity to peer further into the universe’s unseen corners.

America is a richly diverse land and no one part of America is any more “American” than any other. But much of the popular image of this nation’s origins is set in New England—of which Upstate is a part. The stories of the Pilgrims, the first Thanksgiving, the Revolutionary War, Paul Revere’s ride, Lexington and Concord—while based in historical fact has a mythic quality in the sense of deeply, sub-consciously underpinning our vision of who we are and where we came from.

The secular trinity of the American self-image is founded in three regional historical concepts: The American West and frontier, The Civil War South and the New England Revolutionary War region (admittedly extending down to Philadelphia and Valley Forge.)

As I sit typing this I can see out the window behind the monitor—Poplars turning yellow-gold in the clear fall sunshine—tumbling in ones and twos to the receiving earth as the occasional breeze touches them. In the next week the ones and twos will turn into a shower, then a cascade as we approach the Equinox.

The murderous heat of summer is a fading memory—cool temperatures, a sense of completion and resolution—and a kind of transient finality has been given us.

Let all creatures great and small rejoice. September is here and fall is upon us.

Let us emerge from the dehumanized-mechanized solace of our air-conditioned homes and stand as exalting Americans celebrating our new freedom under a cool, blue fall sky.

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