Our little corner of the world this year experienced one of the wettest springs in recent memory. If it didn’t rain every day, it rained every other day.
I remember thinking how fortunate our area was to finally break the persistent drought that had held Georgia in its grip for years and also began to look forward to autumn and what I anticipated would be a wild release of color as the leaves turned.
Alas, along came one of the hottest and driest summers in recent memory as well.
On the upside, I’ve never been an enthusiast when it comes to lawn care, and the lack of rain meant I just had to mow my lawn once a month all summer. I was concerned, though, that the long, hot summer might mean a less than splendid display of leaf color in the fall.
Two weeks ago, I jumped in the old Jeep and headed for Stone Mountain for an early reconnaissance of area foliage. From atop the world’s largest granite outcropping it was apparent that leaves were threatening to go straight from green to brown and simply drop from the trees without so much as a strident protest.
Just last week, however, I took a little road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, from Cherokee to Asheville. What I saw disproved all my fears about a lackluster autumn foliage show. But, realizing that at times I’m given to hyperbole, let me qualify what I discovered for you.
Over the course of my adult lifetime it’s been my privilege to visit all but nine of our nation’s 50 states. Mine eyes have seen the glory of our national parks system, including Grand Canyon, Utah’s Bryce and Zion Canyons, Yosemite, Death Valley, the Painted Desert, Oregon’s Crater Lake, Montana’s Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park and the 59-mile "going to the sun road."
The foliage between Cherokee and Asheville, at this very moment is the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. There’s a spot on the one road connecting Cherokee with Maggie Valley, just east and below where the Blue Ridge Parkway joins that road, where an entrepreneur has fashioned a huge sign proclaiming: "Most photographed spot in the Smokies." People line up there to park in the limited spaces so they can jump out and snap a picture.
It’s worth it. The valley is surrounded by mountains that look as if someone threw a multi-colored quilt over them. The colors are beyond my feeble ability to describe. If you’re there in midmorning or early evening, when the shadows are longer and provide contrast behind the sunlit leaves, it’s just mind-boggling.
Someone smarter than me once said that life is what happens while we’re making plans. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that many readers of this Sunday paper have their Sunday afternoon already mapped out. It’s probable that a random road trip on the spur of the moment is not part of the planned scheme.
If you’ve got a car, or a good friend with a car, stop everything and head for Cherokee this very Sunday afternoon. Take I-85 north to Banks’ Crossing near Commerce. Take the exit for U. S. Highway 441 north to Cherokee. From Cherokee, hang a right and head east toward Asheville. Whenever you’ve run out of daylight or the ability to describe how each turn in the road reveals a view more spectacular than the last view which you thought was unsurpassable, you can head for home.
Oh, I know. You’re busy. There are things to do, people to meet, places to go. Hey, they can wait. The foliage will be gone in a very short while.
Quickly, now, before you have enough time to talk yourself out of it. Call whomever you must. Grab a light jacket or sweater, and a few bottles of water.
Hey! What are you waiting for? Get going! I promise, you’ll be glad you did.
Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.