“I need to get out of the South. Fall here is no good.”
A woman from California said that. I don’t get the criticism. Fall in the Kingdom of Grits can be mighty pretty. And even if fall color is flat now and then, four distinct seasons bless the South with cadence and beauty. Not so in some places. Most of Florida has one season, summer, and the North has a long winter I can do without. I’m fine with the seasons between the 31st and 36th parallels, thank you.
Without doubt, leaves reign as fall’s superstars, and about this time of year leaves begin their anticipated change from ordinary to extraordinary. That green pigment, chlorophyll, fades to free colors, and the curtain rises on a dramatic spectacle known as Fall Color, playwright, Mother Nature.
Weather forecasters predict fall color and people check online maps that track peak colors for pilgrimages into the mountains where multicolored valleys and peaks dazzle and daze. But what about fall’s unheralded performers? Unsung fall color brings beauty as well, even here in the flatlands. About this time of year, I see lots of yellow butterflies. The color of a pat of butter, cloudless sulphur butterflies flutter along roads and highways. Generally, you’ll be driving east to west or west to east and you’ll notice they tend to fly south. Migrating they are. For me, these yellow beauties signify the coming of fall as surely as the reddening of maple leaves, as surely as purple muscadines and gold, brown-flecked scuppernongs. Another unsung beauty come fall is a cotton field pearled over with white bolls. Gaze at a cotton field stretching out beneath a deep blue sky and you see yet another majestic fall setting. Along the roadside skirting that field don’t be surprised if you see goldenrod. Green with its pure gold head, it’s a fall beauty. It’s edible too, but don’t confuse goldenrod with ragweed. They’re different species. Goldenrod, to me, is landlocked sea oats. They wave their flaxen crowns with dignity and grace.
Need more unsung autumnal beauty? How about fog rising from ponds, rivers, and lakes? I love to see wisps of fog drifting like spirits over water. As cool air passes over warm water, here comes fog drifting in a spectral and ephemeral way, on little cat feet wrote the poet.
Down Lowcountry way another unsung beauty blesses autumn. Marshes turn golden and when you lay all that gold laced through by blue creeks beneath an indigo sky you get a Lowcountry like no other. Deep-blue skies. They reign over us as a dome of fall splendor.
As fall falls away, here’s another unsung beauty. Frost. Across your windshield, its feathery crystals etch intricate designs, upon leaves it lays down a glaze-like rime, and like the thinnest layer of snow, it turns rooftops into wintry slopes. Vanishes as soon as the sun strikes it.
So, Miss Californian, we have eye-appeal aplenty down South come fall. And while bright and colorful leaves are hard to beat, fall blesses us with subtle loveliness as well. Don’t let red maple leaves blind you. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you’re advised to keep your eyes open to fall’s unsung colors.