We are blessed in Tennessee to enjoy four distinct seasons, each with its own beauty and character. In fall, it’s a joy to crunch leaves underfoot and look up into the canopy of trees dressed in their autumn colors of russet red, vibrant orange, and rich gold. In winter, the beauty of the bare trunks can be seen and with the leaves gone, vistas out over the mountains are more visible. As spring begins, lovely fresh yellow-green leaves pop out and flowers begin to appear in the neighborhoods and dot the mountain trail-sides. By summer, the neighborhood yards are verdant green, the forests and mountains a rich, lush wonderland of greens, too, with mountain laurel in early summer and later rhododendron, flame azalea, fire pinks and black-eyed Susans.
I often think Fall is the most dramatic of the seasons with the trees changing color and the weather growing cooler, but the milestone memories of autumn lie more in personal events. When I was a girl, the start of school after Labor Day always marked the beginning of fall in my mind. It was the time for new clothes, shoes, crayons, notebooks, and school supplies—and shortly after, I looked forward to the annual Tennessee Valley Fair at Chilhowee Park in Knoxville. Before the development of theme parks and entertainment venues like we know today, the Fair was an exciting event, anticipated with eagerness for the colorful rides, carnival atmosphere, shows, cotton candy, corn dogs, and agricultural buildings. J.L. and I still enjoy going to the fair and this photo was taken in one of the agricultural barns filled with prize-seeking chickens, sheep, goats, cows, rabbits and other farm animals.
Fall has always been Festival Time in Tennessee, too, and around the area colorful decorations start to pop up—pumpkins, scarecrows, fall signs, gourds, old wagons, and hay bales. As regional authors, J.L. and I travel to many festivals around the Smoky Mountains and Appalachian area. These fun-filled events—like the annual Townsend Festival, Mountaineer Festival in GA, Appalachian Museum Homecoming, and the Mountain Makins Festival, to name only a few—are full of bluegrass music, clogging, storytelling, local artisans and crafters, and fabulous food vendors. The colorful sights and sounds at every turn are always entertaining and reflective of the region, too—its history, culture, and people.
Amid all this, the fall days grow shorter and cooler—and the landscape gradually alters.
I see the changes as I walk the neighborhood and travel to events and as we hike in the Smoky Mountains nearby. In early October red sumac and a few changing leaf colors begin to hint of the splendor of color soon to come. Then, often suddenly, a few chilly days will trigger nature’s big show of color—usually in late October or early November. East Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains show off then with a gorgeous color display, as if nature is offering a final burst of beauty and a last hurrah before the start of winter’s bleaker season.
Many people drive through the Great Smoky Mountain roads to see the color, but the
finest way to enjoy it is on a hike up a mountain trail. All the senses get involved on a hike. You see the color all around you, feel the nip in the air, hear the trees rustling in the breeze, the birds twittering, watch the squirrels rushing to gather nuts for winter. You can kick up leaves underfoot as you walk or watch them swirl over cascades in the creek like colorful boats racing downstream. Overhead, you see the rich display of reds, oranges, golds, and yellows with color and beauty all around you. Seeing nature at its finest demands getting up close and personal with it, and that’s where my richest memories of fall have been made. So open your senses—and take a little time before the season passes—to make some autumn memories for yourself.