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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Glory Days*

*Somerset Daily American
September 18, 2010
as "An Annual Love Affair with Autumn"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

September has arrived, and finally the heat, humidity, and haze has left the Laurel Highlands.  Over the weekend, Canada sent us our first mass of cool, dry air, presaging the best time of the year for riding in these mountains.

My favorite time of the year is that stretch of weeks from late September through early November.  Fall colors began to peek out here and there around the 4th week of September.  By mid-October, the season is usually in its full technicolor glory, the magnificent reds and golds against a sky of pure cobalt blue.

The Laurel Highlands is part of the Allegheny Range of the Appalachian Mountains.  Like most of the Appalachians, they are relatively low in elevation, less than 3,000 feet.  Unlike a lot of mountainous areas, the Laurels are covered in a rich population of leafy deciduous trees, rather than evergreen coniferous. Because of that, the hillsides at their peak can glow like the sun itself. 

There are dozens of roads that follow the hilly terrain, most gently curved, although you can find a few squigglies on the map.  There's no shortage of beautiful rides.  I've lived here six years, and I'm still not done.

Something marvelous happens inside on a fall ride.  The sky is crystal clear, the sun, angling towards the southern horizon, slants through the trees, giving the leaves a marvelous illumination.  The sunlight is warm but the air carries a refreshing coolness as it flows past.  Heat and humidity can make a summer ride uncomfortable, even laborious.  But for me, autumn is a time of new life.

The road, dappled in sunlight and leaves, dips and weaves through dense forests, the trees walking right up to the shoulder.  The scents of autumn borne on the gentle winds are a delight that inspire many deep inhalations.  Reaching the hilltops, I occasionally pull off at an overlook to marvel at a valley carpeted in reds and golds.  I see small streams, the water mirroring the riotous colors that line its banks, the waters murmuring secrets as it flows around the rocks that line its course.

But fall is also a time when days grow short.  The long purple twilight of summer becomes a shorter experience, the sun's rays in the clear air gilding the clouds along the horizon.  Suddenly, like a switch, the sun is gone and the world becomes rapidly dark.  This is deer time, when motorcycles must flee the open roads to avoid the risk of instant destruction.  But the short day has made the ride even more special.  Tomorrow, the sun will rise later and set sooner; and there will be even less time to ride.

But that's part of the magic of these days.  The lessening hours means that the time I do have must be intensely lived; cherished; and stored in the hope chest of my memory where its recollection will bring a sense of peace to some restless winter's eve.

The joy of autumn fills me with new life.  My spirit soars like the roar of my bike spreading through the trees.  I treasure these weeks because they never last long enough.  Sometimes I think I endure the rest of the year, just so I can get to Fall.

The years will pass; the leaves will tint and fall and eventually snow will cover them as they fade and become one with the earth.  But for as long as I can ride, for as long as I can sense the world around, I will keep my annual love affair with Fall.
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