When we left North Carolina early Sunday afternoon, it was hot, and sunny, and the straight road shimmered between the dark, mysterious pine trunks that closed ranks on either side.
In Alexandria, Va., the wind gusted the first few leaves against the sidewalk but the pre-dawn air was gentle, soft.
But I stepped out of of the car just before noon back in Pennsylvania, and the chill in the air surprised me. It smelled of rotting leaves, and the sunshine, while warm, left the house cold.
I traveled through time this weekend, taking a day off work and traveling south, leaving behind the reds and yellows of fall for late wildflowers and the yellow-green leaves of late summer; leaving behind deadlines and news stories for the laughter and the stories of friends.
My road fell slowly down the sides of the Pennsylvania highlands, to the traffic-choked corridors of the greater Washington, D.C. area, as daylight gave way to a freak storm and lightning seemed to strike right as planes lifted off the tarmac and rain poured so hard I couldn’t see the road.
Friday morning we left D.C., now two of us, driving south through Virginia until the cars and buildings gave way to wide roads.
In North Carolina the sky stretched huge and blue above us but the pine tree forests hemmed us in and I couldn’t see where sky and earth met.
Here and there cotton fields opened between the trees, white cotton clinging to brittle stems. I wanted to stop, feel the softness between my fingers, and remember those fields that stretched through my childhood.
(I tried to plant my own cotton field in our barren West Texas back yard, burying a seed in a pile of fresh vegetable peels for compost, drenching it with water. It never sprouted.)
And for three full days I read no news, except for a small base newspaper written by military men and women who editorialized even in their first sentence; it was only about base news — a pig picking held in September and a history event from last week.
On a small tour boat on the stretch of water between a coastal town and the barrier island that held (reclusive) mustangs, the wind kept our hair in our faces and I smelled the salt and wished for time to slow down.
The water that rushed over our sand-covered feet was icy cold; I carried a stone worn smooth by the pounding Atlantic when I turned away.
But every good weekend ends and I left them behind, those friends like sisters who I don’t see nearly enough. And my road led north again, back into fall, and the leaves have fallen fast in just three days and some, they stand topless, upper branches bare in the October sunshine.
From fall to summer and back again. And tonight the news presses in and the breeze will turn chill but I will breathe deeply and picture their faces, all laughing, sunlight on water and hair caught in the salt wind.