The leaves of Little River Canyon

By Gary Lloyd

FORT PAYNE – Growing up, I despised the leaves. There were thousands upon thousands of them, all for me to rake into trash bags and tote to the street for pickup. Leaves routinely kept me and my friends from playing backyard football, driveway basketball, and riding bikes. One time, the piles of bags were stacked so high that if you had climbed it, you could have changed the bulb in the streetlight.

So, why is it now, all these years later, that I enjoy the leaves in the fall? Maybe it is because we had six trees in our backyard cut down a couple years ago, and I no longer require using a metal rake and Echo backpack blower every weekend. I no longer have to keep the dog from doing his business in a pile I have just raked. Maybe it is deeper than that.

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I only thought about the leaves Nov. 1 when I was on campus at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. A tree just outside my parking deck caught my eye with its red-wine-colored leaves, a deep splash of red against a gray background. It was admirable. Underneath that tree, a girl was staring into her iPhone, focused. People across the street walked as they texted, Tweeted, and talked. I did not think a whole lot of that until I reached my crosswalk, from where I noticed a tree with leaves as gold as Werther’s Original candy wrappers. It looked awesome and so different from the red leaves of a tree a block away.

I did not pay much attention in high school science class, but apparently during this time of the year, the chlorophyll in tree leaves goes away, allowing other pigments to show their colors. It causes the leaves to turn yellow, orange, and red, before they die and fall to the ground.

On Saturday, I visited Little River Canyon in Fort Payne, Alabama, where an eleven-mile scenic drive winds you through leaves of lemon yellow, candy-apple red, and burnt orange. It is a moving postcard. Not only are there colorful scenes, but there are also overlooks, waterfalls, canyon rims and bluffs, boulders, and sandstone cliffs. Lookout Mountain this time of year is an argyle pattern of these colors, and I am not sure there is anywhere better in Alabama when the leaves change. Taking a bad photo is impossible. The band Alabama, formed in Fort Payne, had plenty of landscape about which to write their songs.

I imagine Little River Canyon and Lookout Mountain to be Alabama’s version of Walden, the famed woods area in Massachusetts where author Henry David Thoreau wrote a book of the same title. I have read much of Thoreau’s writings on simple living, which is nice to think about in today’s twenty-four-hour-news-network world. It is nice to get away.

In Walden, Thoreau writes, “Already, by the first of September, I had seen two or three small maples turned scarlet across the pond, beneath where the white stems of three aspens diverged, at the point of a promontory, next the water. Ah, many a tale their color told!”

There are always words to ponder in Walden. Thoreau is almost always reflecting in this book, which, if you must, may be downloaded for free in the Serial Reader app. I am of the belief, however, that a real book, one bound by glue and paper, is the best option. It need not be charged, or its brightness adjusted. If you drop a book, it will not shatter. It is a simpler medium.

My wife, from Florida, grew up riding Interstate 65 to I-459 to I-59 with her parents, heading north toward Gatlinburg, Tennessee. “Drive hours and hours just to see the leaves change,” she said on Saturday’s trip.

That is what a trip to Little River Canyon entices you to do. You are inclined to smile when your iPhone pops up with a “No Service” message. You are already so close to the Tennessee state line, you may as well cross it into Chattanooga and up to Gatlinburg. After all, Gatlinburg’s catchphrase is “The Mountains Are Calling.”

And there, as well as at Little River Canyon, you are encouraged to admire the leaves, not rake them up. They are only so deep in bright colors for so long before they fall to the ground. Stare at your iPhone for too long, and you might miss it.

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