Autumn was less than three hours old when we slid our kayaks into the Catawba River just below the Lake Wylie Dam.
The day had dressed to welcome the new season. Warm sun, cool air, and the river flashed silver and green.
We had company. A few boaters were taking care of final shore-side details before shoving off. On the nearby banks, egrets and herons stood sentry as they fished the shallows.
But as my wife, Jennifer, and I turned our boats downstream, there was nothing before us but the rest of our trip. We were alone, and the Catawba felt like our private pool.
Then I spotted the big limb. It broke the surface about 200 yards into our float, a warning sign of a submerged tree that had washed into the still swollen river.
More importantly, it offered a fixed point, and as we pulled alongside, we could see for the first time just how quickly the water flowed by.
When he was in his 80s and sitting down to write his autobiography, Carl Jung spoke of life as if it were a skipping stone. A few splashes, a few ripples, then the motion slows and the stone sinks. “Individually, it is so fleeting, so insufficient, that it is literally a miracle that anything can exist and develop at all,” the psychiatrist wrote.
Jung was after a reflective tone, not really a sad one, which is what I felt as the current pulled me farther and farther from the limb.
Fall, I believe, is a time for complicated thoughts and emotions. Migratory flocks begin to form. Trees unconsciously begin the process of dropping their leaves.
The light lowers. Temperatures drop, and humans, for better or worse, begin to mull their mortality.
Years ago, I worked in a windowless building. As a result, the change from summer resembled an ambush.
It was even worse with the time change. The first step from fluorescent lighting to absolute darkness landed like a sucker punch.
Fall deserves better than that. As I’ve gotten older, and gotten a little better at preparing for its approach, I prefer it to spring. Fall shows its age, true, but also its beauty. And beneath it all, it carries an understated urgency: The days are shorter now. Use the time well.
Back on the river, we ferried through a small shoal and floated beneath the I-77 bridge.
A lone osprey circled downstream, procrastinating perhaps on its eventual trip to the coast.
When the keels of our boats touched ground, the sun was high in the sky. There were hours of good daylight ahead.