[Nameplate] Mostly Cloudy ~ 86°F  
Feels like: 102°F
Monday, July 25, 2016

Autumn's best

Sunday, October 16, 2011

If you hurry, you can still make it to the hills to see the fall colors.

You might have to drive "a fur piece," as they say in the Ozarks over yonder, especially if you want to see brilliant scarlets and dazzling golds.

My wife and I drove home from a week in Virginia at the end of last week. We came through North Carolina on purpose to seek the Great Smokey Mountain. As it turns out, they are as beautiful as we remembered from previous trips.

Closer to home, you can still find plenty of autumn beauty even though the recent dry spell is expected to dull some of the hues.

Not to worry. Look for Virginia creeper and poison ivy vines in the trees as they show off their fire-engine reds. The ash tree in our front yard had already put on its school-bus yellows. At the first frost, all of the ash leaves will drop to the ground overnight. Now you see them. Now you don't.

If I can find something nice to say about poison ivy, surely you can scout around and find your own special bit of autumn's best.

Who knew?

I'm ashamed to say that our Virginia trip proved how little I know about our nation's history.

Example: One of the planned stops was in Charlottesville, where Thomas Jefferson built his dream house and where he designed the buildings for the University of Virginia. As we were driving to Monticello, we saw signs for another farm, that of President James Monroe. It is literally just around the corner from the Jefferson place. It's not as spectacular, but it was a president's home, for Pete's sake.

And just up the road is the Madison digs.

Jefferson, Monroe and Madison, along with several others, were more than Founding Fathers. They were neighbors, held common interests and were willing to embark on a visionary journey of national proportions.

I say: Well done, guys.

Mud souvenir

On the back of our car are clumps of Virginia mud formed from early morning fog and dust from the road to America's oldest business.

Coming home, we took the highway along the James River that passes entrances to several major plantations, including that of another president, John Tyler. The sign that intrigued us most, however, was the one announcing Shirley Plantation, so we took the gravel road to see for ourselves.

Folks, if you're planning a trip to Virginia, you will, of course, want to see Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Monticello and so forth. But I'd make a special trip to see Shirley Plantation.

It has been in the same family for 11 generations, was the first Virginia plantation and is the oldest family business in North America.

On top of that, the carefully preserved -- not restored -- house, outbuildings and grounds are some of the most beautiful I've ever laid eyes on.

Mud on our car? That's our souvenir, a reminder of the serendipity we enjoyed one fall day while driving on an unfamiliar highway.

Find your own mystery tour. It will cost a lot less than you might spend in the gift shops of the big-name historical attractions.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

R. Joe Sullivan
R. Joe Sullivan