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A season of our own

Here’s a riddle for you. If the leaves turn in the mountains and there are no tourists to see them, are they still beautiful?

I’ve been in Western North Carolina since 1986. I know for some that still makes me a tourist. But that’s 20 autumns and I never saw so many leaves on the trees so late in the year.

I hope area retailers and entrepreneurs didn’t take a hit because of the green October. I imagine most of the dedicated leaf-lookers were here, because one has to make reservations a year in advance to be assured of lodging in these parts from mid- to late-October. And even though there was no burst of color, the clear skies and cozy temperatures were great for being outdoors.

Now I don’t have anything against the people who come here to get a dose of the mountains and I understand that the “tourist” is what makes our economy go round. But I can’t help but take some kind of egocentric pleasure in the fact that the leaves turned for us this year.

It’s like a great cocktail party, where there is a house full of amiable people, all in good spirits and everyone is having a good time, and the party slowly ends as everyone leaves except for a few close friends. That’s when you go over to the liquor cabinet and break out the good stuff and sit and savor the moment.

The good stuff came to my neck of the woods around the first weekend of November this year. And I was surprised at the color. It wasn’t the dizzying vibrant colors of those crisp October days of autumns past — it was almost like autumn in sepia.

Now there were some bright colors, even the occasional candy apple red, but the maples didn’t pop across the landscape like they usually do. Many of the reds were maroon and burgundy. Yellow, in various shades and hues, was the predominant color. The birches, poplars, magnolias and hickories stood on the mountains like yellow beacons.

And the unusual autumn weather created some unusual autumn colors as well. There are a couple of large red maples in a small yard just down the road from my house. I have become accustomed to seeing them in various stages of wonderful red every fall. They didn’t make red this year, but they turned a fabulous chartreuse. After noticing them, I studied other red maples and found many that were similarly colored.

It seemed to me the color came quickly. It was beginning to look like the mountains were going to go from green to brown. Then Friday, Nov. 4, I was driving north over Cowee Mountain and began to notice the color along the roadside. After Dillsboro I turned east on U.S. 23/74. The Plott Balsams were in front of me, showing lots of color.

I spent the rest of the weekend savoring “our” color. I drank it in slowly, like a short glass of 12 year-old Zaya Gran Reserva Rum with one ice cube melting in it.

And as quickly as it came, the color was gone. The mountains are now basically brown, and there is a sidewalk somewhere under the leaves in front of my house and the Zaya Gran is back in the liquor cabinet.

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