“Yeah man, that sounds like a hard drive problem, if your computer won't start”, I said.
“Cool, I think Jason and I will run over and see if we can get one. You coming in this weekend?”, he said.
“Yeah, I’ll be glad to see you. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I’m seeing a girl, I’d love to talk to you about her.”
Sometime the next morning, I was awakened by a phone call. He was gone. Car accident.
My memories of that time are a bit of blur – some of it drunken – but I remember the leaves changing. Full color. I remember standing around with my friends. Peers. Realizing that it was probably all going to be different after that.
I have a photo of it. One of the most incredible photos of my life – I’m not sure who took it – because everyone is “in” the photo. Of all of us sitting under the maple tree in my parents yard, in a pile of leaves, all of us grieving in the cool, crisp, fall air.
I would leave the state within a year of that, with that girl I wanted to talk to him about.
I’d divorce her a decade later.
Fall truly is the most beautiful season here. The leaves are incredible, and it seems to be our “dry season”. Perfect for doing everything outside. Hiking, biking, rock climbing – they call it “Sendtember” around here. Everyone is psyched about playing outside – Gauley Season, Football Season.
We definitely turn it up a notch. Weekends packed to the gills – take a half-day on Friday, drive out to the mountains, get a couple of mile hike and setup camp before sunset. Get the sunrise, marvel at the beauty in the leaves changing, in the smell in the air. Drive through the hills and climb with your friends till dark – which isn’t that late – so you can have a few beers and dinner, and still be in bed before midnight, ready to do it again.
We push hard, because we know that literally the best thing we’ve seen all year may be just around the next curve or over the next hill.
But part of me thinks we push hard because we also know time is short. That in a few short weekends, it will be too dark to hit it after work, and too cold to camp happily.
The Day We Won. The Day We Lost
The conditions were perfect. It was dry. It was cool. The leaves were on fire. That’s a great thing about West Virginia. If you know the state, and watch the weather, you can chase the changing leaves from the high-country to the low-country, and stretch your fall out for a month or more. We were out on the early part of the change, September – in the top of the high country around Dolly Sods and Canaan Valley. We had pushed on an epic hike through the day – 8 miles – and returned to base camp with light in the sky – and realizing that it was about to be an incredible sunset. I motivated Carmen – motivating me too – that we should go for it. Worst case was an awesome walk in the evening. We thundered to the top of the ridge, and we made one of my favorite images and memories of the last several years as we crested to an astonishing sunset over the mountains. We rallied back to camp, and had a great evening with friends in a perfect Autumn night.
The next day, it felt like the wind was at our backs, that we could do no wrong, and we pushed on toward a spot that we had found earlier in the summer, and were sure we should return to. It was an epic campsite, on the spot of a long-gone firetower, but the views were nearly 360-degrees, and we had an incredible night as a couple, dancing like pagans around a fire, watching the stars wheeling through the sky. We arose the next morning, realizing that we had been pushing hard. That we were tired, and we decided to make a dog-leg past my parents house. Worst case, we’d get a delicious dinner out of the deal, and then have a mellow drive home on the interstate.
We got there mid-day, and had some food, and then the phone rang.
“There’s been an accident, no one can tell me what happened, but we have to go”
We got there, and our worst fears were realized.
Over the next week, I saw the best in people. I sat on the porch, shivering in my flannel, as the weather moved between Indian Summer and cold fall rain. And I realized it was going to be a long winter.