Bill Studenc: From fall colors to the rigors of raking, from Oktoberfest to pervasive pumpkin spice, here's to autumn in the mountains

·4 min read

Oct. 15—While Western North Carolina is well-known for having four distinct seasons, each offering a unique set of selling points, the time of year now upon us is the favorite of many — natives and newcomers alike.

Autumn is when our mountains come ablaze with fiery reds, oranges and yellows during the annual changing of the color guard. It's also when biologists across the region issue their fall foliage forecasts and try to avoid the wrath of local chambers of commerce, should they predict a below-average show for leaf-peepers.

But, as those prognosticators say when hedging their bets, you can always find good fall color somewhere in WNC. That statement not only calms the tourism development authority folks, it's also true.

Autumn also means the region's craft breweries are tapping kegs of their latest Oktoberfest beers. If fall's colors have not yet peaked or are more subdued than hoped, you can visit your favorite pub — there's one at every corner these days — and take solace in a pint of seasonal lager. Or several.

With the arrival of fall, Cold Mountain, the popular spiced ale that's "just a wee bit different every year," is right around the corner, courtesy of Highland Brewing, granddaddy of WNC's craft beer scene.

October is a sports enthusiast's dream, between innumerable college and NFL football games, the MLB playoffs (go Braves!) and World Series, the homestretch of the NASCAR Cup Series, and the start of the NHL and NBA seasons.

Sure, fans may find themselves suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome with the constant clicking of the remote, but at least they're not settling for competitive cornhole or documentaries about sports, like during the early days of the pandemic last year.

On a personal note, I've developed somewhat of a love/hate relationship with fall.

Too many craft beers and too much time sitting on my keister watching sports all weekend — plus Monday and Thursday NFL games and any weekday during playoff baseball — leads to too much Bill. I tell Margaret I'm just putting on my winter coat to get ready for hibernation, but she's not buying it.

Staying on a personal note, my birthday falls in October. While birthdays are great when you're a kid getting cake, ice cream and presents (but never that pony or BB gun you wanted), at my age you might be recalling Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" and the lyrics "...the train, it won't stop going. No way to slow down."

That said, having a birthday every year sure beats the alternative. Sign me up for as many as possible, thank you much.

Returning to craft brews, Cold Mountain is not the only thing right around the corner. So is cold weather and the dark days that come with the end of Daylight Saving Time. I enjoy autumn; it's what comes next that I dread. The Monday after we roll the clocks back is the most depressing day on the calendar. Suddenly, it's midnight:30 at 5:15 p.m.

Another downside to autumn, pumpkin spice is everywhere. I mean, who was the first person to think, "Pumpkin beer ... that'll be good!" A few years back, the Sylva Dunkin' sign proclaimed "We have all things pumpkin!" I pulled to the drive-through and ordered a pumpkin. They didn't have one. I'm still waiting for the proceeds from my false advertising lawsuit.

Before you brand me as antifa (that stands for "anti-fall," right?), I'm mostly kidding about the negatives of fall ... although there is one aspect of autumn I despise. Raking.

Our fenced, steep backyard is ringed by towering trees — mostly oaks and hickories — that begin bombarding us with acorns and nuts in early fall, later pelting us with loads of leaves through mid-November. In the 20-plus years we've lived in this spot, I've tried several ways of tackling the problem.

I've raked or used the leaf blower every fall weekend and found that all work and no play makes Bill an angry boy, especially when Mother Nature delights in sending another deluge of vegetative matter onto my head just as I'm finishing for the day. I've waited until all the leaves are down, only to have my rake's handle shatter from the weight of fallen foliage and my leaf blower powerless to move the pile with anything short of Category 4 hurricane-force wind velocity.

Now retired from full-time work, I plan to attack the leaves several times every week this fall, blowing them into the center of the yard and running them over with the mower, turning them into mulch supplying nutrients to the lawn. If that doesn't work, next year I'll use a new tool for leaf removal.

It's called the checkbook, and I'll pay somebody to do it. Then fall will truly rank as my favorite season.

Bill Studenc, who began his career in journalism and communications at The Mountaineer in 1983, retired in January 2021 as chief communications officer at Western Carolina University. He now writes about life in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

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