D.T. Pennington

Writer – Photographer – Creative Coach

Erecting the Seasonal Gravestones

We’re starting to get those crisp kind of mornings here in the western parts of the Carolinas. My mornings on the porch start in the dark, it’s getting cold. Hoodie, but no socks – not yet. I could probably toughen the feet for a few more weeks. The sky lightens, and so do the trees. At the top of the driveway the flowering dogwood has turned bright red – it will be the first to go into the naked graveyard of Asheville winter trees. Everyone else is lightening the edges of their leaves – the greens turn to golds.

Slowly, then all at once. The first hard freeze rolls through and destroys a billion cellular walls and leave the garden hanging limp.

The rhododendrons will survive as they do. The eternal craw of the kudzu is finally halted, if only for a short while. More importantly, the cicadas and their non-stop whine fall silent. For a few weeks, maybe, you can sleep with your windows open and not be driven to madness in your dreams.

This is the world we live in.

Back when I had the desk and sold imaginary plots of ad space, this was the kick-off to the high season. When digital ad budgets went gangbusters. Holiday sales and tourism campaigns, football content and political propaganda. The money flowed like wine. You couldn’t sell enough, there was always more. Then, on Christmas eve, the pipe pinched shut. No one knew about it then, we were all off on our holidays ignoring our emails and dashboards. We would return to the office in a new year, with new budgets and goals.

The world was not golds and oranges. No, those were when everything was tinted with the blue light of computer screens focused on greed.

Things are different now. When your days are your own you start to notice all of them. You feel how long they are and where the time goes and how naps manage to sneak into everything. Around town, the grocery store parking lots are full of cars with plates from Florida and Georgia. It’s a little early still to drive the parkway and see the leaves change, but it’s never to early to try and outrun the next hurricane. Ask a local, these are the problem people. The ones who own several houses, and the one in Asheville is the vacation home that sits empty for 80% of the year. To them, it is a refuge. To everyone else, it could be a home.

The rhetoric around housing and equality always seems to peak in the early days of fall. Maybe it is our learned history, but everyone fears the insecurity of an uncertain winter. Will the work hold out? Will I get to keep my bed? Will I survive yet another lonely night, the next longer than the last? When does the season of giving start? And why does it have to end?

When the tourists arrive, and they will, the roads will choke with their SUVs. They will want downtown parking in overstuffed garages so they can eat dinner while watching in disgust as the unhoused make their beds in the doorways and vestibules of shuttered businesses. During the day they will drive the narrow mountain roads and parkways to admire the colors of the trees while not paying quite enough attention to the road ahead of them. It will be an endless caravan of strangers trying to pull off to the side of the road to take in the lookout vista of the rolling red hills.

I’ve seen it on a Wednesday afternoon. I get it. It’s nice.

The truth of the beast: Asheville looks absolutely dead in the winter. The forests turn to grey skeletons that seamlessly run into the persistent overcast sky. It is a reminder that people hang holiday lights on their homes this time of year so things feel a little livelier. The shorter days feel longer when night falls at 4 PM in the holler. A good a time as any to remind yourself to go for a walk when the sun is shining.

Of all things, and what excites me the most, is the long nights. The warm drapes over windows, the glow of a lightbulb on a printed page, the permission to watch the movies I’ve seen so many times there are no surprises left. Sleep more, sleep longer. Hibernate, dream, and let the other world remind you what it is capable of.