Autumn Pilgrimage

Fall is on display. Catch it if you can.

A buddy of mine lived in Florida for a few years and what he missed most were the seasons, especially fall and its splendid colors. You can have flat, sandy, mono-season Florida. I’ll take a granite ledge that hangs 1,000 feet over a valley carpeted with red, yellow and orange leaves every time.

As summer winds down, the dwindling of chlorophyll is a beautiful thing. As the sun sets earlier, as temperatures drop, summer’s green palette gives way to autumn’s shades of red, orange and gold. Of late November has been the time when trees burst with brilliance. Typically, foliage in South Carolina’s mountains has peaked later in the fall because of warm weather with bursts of color here and there.

Planning a trip when the colors peak is not easy, especially if reservations are in order. You’ll find websites and weathermen galore who try to predict the peak season (elevation and latitude make a difference).

Predicted with accuracy or not, the arrival of fall colors kicks off a tourism season. For many, driving through the Upstate into the North Carolina mountains is an annual pilgrimage. Rather than a long day trip, I like a three- to four-day adventure. I plot a rambling, roundabout route that goes up through Greenville, up to Walhalla, into Highlands, N.C., over to Brevard, Hendersonville and on to Asheville, the town where Thomas Wolfe and O. Henry sleep by the French Broad River.

I enjoy departures from the main route. You’ll find that a lot of small towns in the mountains hold festivals during fall. If you plan a fall color trip be sure to build in some time for explorations. Go to South Carolina’s rooftop, Sassafras Mountain. See its maples flaunt their colors. Look for roadside stands selling apple jelly and other treats from the land. Among the stands’ offerings are pumpkins and gourds. Rainbow foliage finds rivals in red apples, golden honey and bright jams and jellies. Look too for wild grapes and vineyards. Take your time. Stop and buy honey – sunshine in a jar – and apples too. Check out an Appalachian tradition, handmade quilts for sale.

Driving from Brevard to Hendersonville, look for the cemetery where Thomas Wolfe’s legendary “Look Homeward Angel” stands with outspread wings. Detour to Flat Rock and tour Connemara, the home where Carl Sandburg lived, now a national historic site.

On to Asheville. In his memoir “Burning The Days,” James Salter writes, “There is a feeling. That somewhere the good life is being lived but not where you are.” That’s how I feel about Asheville. I spent a few days there on assignment for a magazine. One morning there as crystal clear as a photo taken by a fine Hassleblad. Deer grazed in the meadow behind the estate. Fog rolled in and auburn deer faded into gray phantoms. Sunlight burnt off the fog and blazing fall foliage lay upon October’s hills like sun-struck jewels.

Fall colors are one of Earth’s better performances. There’s music in the leaves and there’s no resisting their siren song. Keep checking the forecasts and enjoy the absence of green.

If You Go …

Check websites that predict fall color:

Check the Table Rock Foliage Cam

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected].

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