Fall Leaf Show
by Luke Osteen
With the arrival of the annual Fall Leaf Show, you’re seeing the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau at its best.
The bold colors carpeting the mountains around us suggest a quilting bee that shared a pot of peyote tea and then went to work, finally tossing their finished product over an unmade bed. The display is breathtaking in its richness and randomness, kaleidoscopic in its hypnotic variations.
But here’s the thing to remember: Those brilliant leaves, dying in such magnificent style that visitors and locals alike will literally stop in the middle of the road to take in a particular cove or vista, are just a portion of the Plateau’s October glory.
Consider the entire sensual banquet offered freely throughout the season.
For scent, the cool, crisp days offer the deep forest balm of decaying leaves, the redolence of leaves being burned, and the musk of compost before the onset of the hard frosts.
For a blending of beauty and flavor and an inimitable part of the local culture, look for Staghorn Sumac in the fields and forests of the area. In the spring and summer, it’s an unassuming denizen of the underbrush, but in the fall it seduces passersby with leaves and berries that have turned a deep crimson. It’s a show-stopper.
If you choose to harvest the berries, you can make a delicious tonic that’s handed down to us from the Cherokee who first settled here.
Soak the berries in water for about 10 minutes, then mash them with your hands or a potato masher. Let the resulting mixture sit for half an hour, then repeat, letting it stew for another half-hour.
Strain the resulting mash through a cheesecloth, then add a bit more water and some sugar (or honey if you want to keep it authentic) to create a sweet-tart mixture. You can also add a bit of mint for flavor. Serve this Sumac-Ade on a sunny October afternoon and you’ve got a transcendent moment to treasure.
Another authentic October flavor is the local apples that are coming into harvest. Check out Marlene Osteen’s ode to the humble, noble apple on Page 104. You can savor the best by stopping at the Highlands Marketplace, August Produce, Bryson’s and Mountain Fresh Grocery in Highlands; and The Cashiers Farmer’s Market. You’ll find heirloom varieties that have nearly vanished from the American landscape – Father Abraham, Esopus Spitzenburg, and the wonderfully-named Arkansas Black. If you’re curious, The Bascom has a couple of rare Arkansas Black trees as part of its landscaping. You can pick one without getting yelled at.
For sound, well, the seasonal songbirds have fled South, allowing you to take in the raucous sounds of our big, really big, crows and ravens. They’re a gregarious bunch and aren’t shy about conversing among wandering people. You’ll still find old-timers who contend that they can distinguish the emotions and ideas conveyed by the different calls.
For a completely different sort of mountain sound, stop by the Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library at 7:00 P.M. on the 10th for a free concert by internationally-recognized Appalachian musician Mary Z. Cox. An award-winning banjoist and dulcimer prodigy, Mary will perform songs that were born and cherished in the mountains ringing the Plateau. It’s as close to the joyful nights at Helen’s Barn in Highlands as we’re likely to get.
And finally, to truly experience life in the twin communities, it’s Goblins on the Green in Cashiers on Friday, October 25; and Highlands’ Downtown All Hallow’s Eve Celebration, Thursday, October 31.
Both events feature the entire communities coming together for fun, music and laughter. You may be telling yourself, “I’m too old for stuff like that.” Believe me, you’re not. Both events will enrobe you in Cashiers and Highlands in ways that can’t be duplicated in any other manner.
So enjoy the leaves, but remember to savor the entire spectrum of life on the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau.