A hint of fall surprised me this morning. Yesterday was hot, and today will be too. But the air was crisp when I stepped out ahead of the sun.
Fall is my favorite, whether I’m in the woods or town. It draws me out and makes me wish for a leaf covered forest, a campfire, or a walk with my rifle. When it’s hot, I like nothing and no one. But a cool day is like rebirth. I am at peace with everyone and everything.
Fall also fills me with longing, both for things I’ve known and things I haven’t.
A chilly drive down a dirt road in my old Ford, my newly earned high-school letter jacket keeping me warm on my way to a place I’ve forgotten. The first cold breeze across the campus of Tarleton State while my friends and I walked to the old dining hall. My horse’s friskiness, or the first deer hunt of the season.
My mom would have called me this morning. Nothing excited her like fall. She would be cooking stew or chili and putting out decorations and old November issues of Country Living, already making plans for Thanksgiving.
When her doctor told her that she had four months to live, she told us she thought it would be nice to die on Thanksgiving, surrounded by her family. But Thanksgiving and Christmas and spring and summer came and went. The next Thanksgiving, I stopped on the way to their house to buy a bottle of her favorite wine. But, for the first time ever, she didn’t greet me when I came in. She died that evening with a home full of Thanksgiving guests.
Another winter and summer passed, and at the beginning of the next fall my dad and sister and I finally had a chance to take the little box to my mother’s family’s cemetery in Montrose, West Virginia. We had a memorial for her in the church where her great, great grandfather preached years ago, and where she was baptized when she was a little girl, not so long ago. My sister, always the thoughtful one, remembered to bring fall decorations, mini pumpkins and mums, for mama.
I’ve written before about the longing that West Virginia, and especially the area of Elkins and Montrose, stirs within me. A strange mixture of melancholy and hopefulness. A feeling of loneliness, yet also a connection to something in the past I’ve never known. Lives lived and lost, and hardships I’ve never known, some overcome and some not, by my ancestors who called those mountains “home.” It makes no sense for me to call them home since I’ve never lived among them, but every time I hear John Denver’s song, I want to go back.
Maybe the mountains themselves fill me with that unexplained homesickness; I’ve felt it nearer home in the forests of New Mexico and Colorado. The pull of the hills comes from somewhere deeper than their outward beauty.
The Welsh call this longing hiraeth, and the German call it sehnsucht. C.S. Lewis knew it well. He argued that it was evidence that we were made for another world. And his own Narnian characters expressed those feelings of longing for another unknown time or place in various ways.
In the fall of my twenty-first year, we brought my great-grandfather from Texas to the same Montrose cemetery after his six years of grieving for my sweet grandmother. My dad and uncle and grandfather and I carried him out of the one-room framed church across the yard to his little spot where he’d long wished to be. We sang, “Carry me home, carry me home, when my life is o’r.” I felt the longing then, and I feel it any time I remember that place.
The cool mornings bring a promise of high school football games, trips to the field with my son and his lab where we never fire a shot but enjoy the sunset, and walks with my wife that don’t soak us in sweat. Hot tea or porter in the evening, and maybe an apple pie during the weekend. And they bring a longing for home—the home I remember, and a home I’ve never known.