After the long, hot, dry summer, many of us in Rappahannock County wondered if our normally spectacular fall would have any color at all, or if the leaves would merely turn brown and drop to the ground unceremoniously. Then, with its usual unpredictability, nature turned around and dumped a load of rain on us, accompanied finally by seasonably cool weather. Instead of brown, we got to enjoy one of the more spectacular fall leaf-turnings.
In Rappahannock, fall color means more than local folks being able to enjoy aesthetic appeal. Our economy depends on tourism as well as agriculture, and both would have suffered tremendously if the drought had continued into fall. Not to say that it’s over, but the recent rains have put a pleasing dent in the water deficit and given us the fall color that we’re famous for.
The incredible shifting in light in the last week, as fronts and rain came and went, made me stop what I was doing more than once to admire the show. It reminded me of of the rain that finally came in fall after a drought in 2002. One image sticks out in my mind particularly. The clouds were racing across the mountains early one morning, they suddenly opened up to create what in Southeast Alaska (where it can rain 365 days a year) is called a "glory hole" – a break in the clouds that lets the sun shine through and light up a small area of the ground below. The term came from mining, referring to an open-pit mine, alluding to the treasures that lay beyond it. This glory hole opened up over Thornton Gap down to Sperryville. With all the moisture in the air, the light had a soft, glowing luminosity that reminded me of the nineteenth-century painters of the Hudson River School of art.
|“In the Mountains,” by Alfred Bierstadt, |
one of the best-known Luminist painters
While I’ve seen glory holes open up over Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, and myriad other magnificent natural settings, the quality of light when they occur in the Blue Ridge is somehow different. The light manages to be intense yet soft, more of a caress of the landscape than a sudden shock of light. In the fall, the combination of this soft light and the glowing fall colors can be an unbeatable combination.
In Alaska, when hikers meet on a trail, they often acknowledge their shared love of that natural wonderland they’re hiking through by saying “another day in paradise.” When a glory hole breaks open during a fall rain in Rappahannock, we could easily say the same.