Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Hot Springs, AR

Most people love the fall for the colors. It's hard to blame them. Many times, I wish I could see what everyone else can this time of year. Sadly, red leaves and green leaves look much the same to me. Fortunately, autumn brings a few miracles for the less visually inclined anyway. Sometimes, when leaves rage against the dying of the light, portions of the leaf change color at different rates. One portion of the leaf is purple, another is red, and the remaining parts are orange and yellow. Autumn provides a change of color but also the disappearance of monochromatic decoration.

I have heard many times that before death, some people have an increase in energy. They feel relatively good, speak to their loved ones after days or weeks of silence. Leaves of trees do the very same thing.

Death is ugly, but it is also strangely beautiful. People tend to remember the beauty and neglect the reality. The colors signify death. The leaves will turn brown and fall. Their death is signified by gravity and wind. The leaves even wave as they gently descend to their deathbeds. Soon, they will disappear into the wind.

For travelers like me, visual splendor is to be celebrated but also respected. The glorious snow-capped mountains of the Rockies have recently been enhanced by the dying evergreens, as a result of an invasive species of insect from Asia. Beauty in spite of natural carnage.

Typically, when a site is beautiful, it also comes at great cost. With fall colors, the cost is death -- temporary, anyway. Nature falling asleep, foretelling of the harsh winter to come.

On a particularly stressful fall day, I decided to drive out of town on a whim. I had no idea where I was going, but I soon ended up in the Ouachitas. The trees were ablaze with color, and the sunshine gave the leaves a gleam that makes the knees weak. I stopped frequently on Talimena Scenic Byway, well into Arkansas. Soon, I decided to stop in Hot Springs for the night. I hadn't been to the national park there yet, and it seemed relatively obvious as a stay-over. I ate at the Perkins in town after a long walk through the downtown area. The bath houses that are the main attraction of the park were beautiful but not really my thing. I wanted a hike.

The next morning, I made my wish come true. A short hike in the woods north of town. And the sunlight danced on the dying leaves in a natural joy hard to capture in a few snapshots. Nature's last stance on a warm October day. The leaves rustled victoriously in the wind. A beautiful, refreshing walk that was the perfect sedative for the stressful weeks preceding it. Nature's death is, in many ways, a source of inspiration. Its last burst of energy is a reliable source of mine.