This time of year, the turn from fall to winter, is one I wasn’t much aware of growing up in Louisiana. Tree leaves went directly from green to brown and dropped off, and the weather got a little cooler, and that was it. Once—once—it snowed, a half inch, and when I tried to roll a snowball over a driveway to add more snow to it from the next yard, the whole thing melted away.
As an adult I lived for many years in coastal Virginia, where there was a greater sense of a seasonal change, though not much greater. But I did experience the kaleidoscopic loveliness of autumn and the full stark beauty of winter in Thanksgiving and Christmas visits to my wife’s parents, who lived in the western, mountainous part of the state.
And some of this experience made it into my first mystery, “Night Journey,” set in Northern Virginia: “Pale orange stalks waved above the green grass of the rolling meadow, and in the distance several horses were grazing near a line of yellow and red trees. Beyond the trees, the autumnal mountains carried lightly on their backs the moving mountains of white cloud.”
In 2015, following the death of my wife’s mother, we decided to move into her house, and so now we get the full effect of the great natural transition. Because the world is warming, autumn was subdued this year, but then in early November it suddenly blazed into full glory—a heart-stopping reminder of the preciousness of life.
(Picture: Douthat Lake, about 30 miles west of Lexington, VA)