This isn’t Vermont or New Hampshire. Not even North Carolina or Tennessee. Yesterday, I drove home through the grey, bone-chilling drizzle of a typical fall day in West Central Alabama, slowly making my way on Old Selma Road. I was aware that autumn is actually anything but spectacular in this part of the world. On the entire stretch, 12 miles long, from the outskirts of Montgomery to our farm, there was no other car on the road so I had an unimpeded view of the wooded lands on either side of Old Selma. When fall arrives in Lowndes County, mostly it turns leaves brown and brittle, leaves that give up the fight without one last splendid burst of color. Tropical Storm Nate blew through here this year, stripping more trees of more leaves more quickly than usual.
On Old Selma Road, poverty, the kind of poverty that is made up of beaten down old trailers and “manufactured homes” that are none-the-less home to many, mules and horses with bones etched through coats of fur dulled by hunger, is more visible now that so many of the leaves are gone. But so is a shiny new small bike, standing on an otherwise forlorn front porch, transforming what should be bleak into a place of some kind of brave and undaunted love. This isn’t beauty per se, but something transcendent and strangely filled with grace and goodness.
Here, in this part of Alabama, in this season, you have to look for beauty. You can’t just look down the road and expect to be dazzled in the way you might be by the colors further up north, so many and so brilliant on a crackling fall day. Here it is about driving slowly, and being observant. Trusting that even if all you’ve seen for any number of miles is a variation on the theme of dry brown leaves, you can reasonably hope to come upon, to be surprised by beauty, if you will look hard and not quit. Because tucked into nothing more extraordinary than a denuded pecan tree grove or a bunch of seemingly lifeless underbrush, you will find one, or maybe two trees of stunning, breath-taking color, or a bush of burning red glory, like Moses must have seen when God spoke to him, such beauty as will fly right in the face of the truth that this isn’t the place to come looking for the glory of fall.
The news about Alabama these days is like looking through the denuded trees of fall, to a place where there is much spiritual poverty and hunger and bleak truths that can’t be hidden. But when I go slowly, look carefully, hold to hope and allow myself to be surprised, I keep finding extraordinary beauty, right here, right now, in Alabama. If you’ve never been, I’d love to show you. Come visit.