I feel the sun catch the tops of the trees before I see it. Turning, I see through my window the oaks aflame with the last of the dying light. For a moment I am still, dazzled with the flash of gold. Then I rise, abandoning my study without a second thought. In some deep corner of my heart I know I will not be able to live with myself if I don’t go to the hilltop.
Outside, the breeze greets me, comfortably cool and tasting like wine. I drink greedily as I cross the yard. Copper leaves crunch beneath my feet. Dead grass, bleached pale yellow by the warm, dry fall, brushes my bare ankles. As I reach the asphalt road, I whisper a few lines of a favorite poem, well-recited and long committed to memory.
Everything mortal has moments immortal,
swift and God-gifted, immeasurably bright.
The neighborhood is quiet. If I listen hard I can hear Crystal’s children playing on their corner, but that is far away. The house at the top of the hill is serene, a warm light glowing in the windows. I imagine its elderly inhabitants tucked inside, preparing supper or sitting in front of the five o’clock news. The house below me is dark and empty. It will be another three days before life and light return to the mountain getaway.
I welcome the solitude. I have not come to exchange pleasantries with people. My company is the sun. Now at the summit of the hill, where the two roads intersect, I look down into the valley, and wait for her arrival.
It does not take long. Without fanfare, I suddenly become aware that the hills have changed. They are burning, the evergreen contrasting sharply with the crimson and gold. It is clear, and I can see the range of the Blue Ridge mountains rising above my familiar Appalachians. I look right, to North Carolina. I look left, to Tennessee.
Now the trees bordering the Craig’s yard are caught in the radiance, translucent with dragon-fire. The beauty of it nearly hurts my eyes. These are colors you cannot find at Sherwin Williams; these are colors that man has not made and probably never will. For this briefest of moments, all the grey illusions of the world are stripped bare, and I glimpse the intensity of the wonder beneath.
I feel a touch on my leg and hear a soft chirrup. My cat has followed me out of the house and joined me in this private celebration of November. I bend down to stroke her and feel her begin to purr a calico hymn. Heedless of the remote danger of cars, we sit together at the edge of the road, and gaze out over the world. I think of what it must have been like to be a Cherokee, standing upon this very hill before there was a road. Before there were houses, and lights. Before there was a lake. I wonder what they thought as they looked down into this sea of unchartered mountains. Perhaps someone stood as I did, on the summit at sunset, and marveled at the transformation brought about by sun and shadow.
As quickly as it has come, the vision passes. The embers fade. Twilight draws its veil across the sky. The world is masked in blue and purple once more, and I note a star burning in the west. Eärendil, I say reverently to myself, and I laugh because no one here would understand why.
Slowly, Simba and I drift back to the other side, not quite the same as when we left it.
* The lines above belong to the poem A Winter Ride, by Amy Lowell