Autumn Journey

Story and Photos by Holly Hein

Another fall, another turned page.
— Wallace Stegner

I hadn’t thought much about the variety of trees that grow along the Salmon River until I came out of a curve along the highway on a familiar drive south to our cabin near McCall and was hit in the face by a blast of brilliant gold. I had left Moscow later than I had planned and now the sun sat just above the mountains to the west, its light filtering through the leaves but still shining in my eyes, which obliged me to quickly shield them. The sun also reflected on the low-running river that still produced a few ripples and whitecaps. The water danced and sparkled over rocks and sandbars as the Salmon headed north, then west, to its union with the Snake River in Hells Canyon.

Its journey would be broken up by rocks of every size, worn smooth by years of contact with water and sand. I am a collector of wild river rocks, which give me great visual joy, whether I see them in landscaped beds around my local mall, in a garden, or along the water’s edge. They have tumbled and rolled along a river, some for many miles. They’re smooth to the touch, some grey, some white, some salt-and-pepper, or even black. There are pebbles, fist-sized stones for tossing in the river, and others I can hardly lift from the bank but will anyway, because I am a collector. Each one has had a life and story to tell if it could. A life of bumps and bruises, trips over waterfalls, encounters with fish, washouts, being carried along, and having its rough edges smoothed.

Before I’d left our home near Moscow, the first signs of autumn’s colder nights and shorter days had come from the massive weeping birch in my front yard. Throughout each summer, its long branches and tiny green leaves drip down onto the front lawn outside my large kitchen window. I watch the world go by through its stringy branches, and it seems to be the first tree on our block to signal that change is coming. This always makes me panic a bit. “No, not yet! Slow down, it’s only September.”

Yet despite such pleas, a few small yellow leaves appear and then fall to dot the still-green, mown lawn. Up until that point, every day has been predictably warm and I can walk barefoot, wear flip-flops and shorts. My sweaters are packed away, I wash my car in the driveway, work in the yard after dinner, eat all my meals on the patio, have coffee and read a book or newspaper on the deck, even early in the day. But now the tree tells me I will have to put away the big umbrella and patio cushions, use the drive-through car wash, and dig out my long pants, socks, and shoes. I won’t want to sit outside in the evening, and after dinner it will be too chilly and dark to work in the yard. I think the early darkness is really what I begin to dread.

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Holly Hein

About Holly Hein

Holly Hein is a writer who enjoys exploring the backroads of Idaho during every season and reading and writing about the West. She and her husband live in Pullman, Washington, and have a log cabin in central Idaho where they spend way too many hours cutting trees and chopping firewood, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Holly recently finished a book about her parents and grandparents called Pieces of My Past.

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