It came at an unlikely hour…5:20 in the a.m. But who am I to argue?
I slip out of bed, into my clothes, and out to my car. My husband appears in the doorway…A native Cali-man who knows nothing about the Call of Autumn.
He stands there in his skivvies. Bewildered. Watching me drive away.
I don’t try to explain what I’m doing or where I’m going. How can a Midwesterner explain such things to a coastal Californian?
Especially when I don’t understand, myself.
All I know is that it comes every Autumn. Cool. Brisk. Mysterious. A restlessness that can’t be described or explained.
It should never be ignored.
I drive toward the river bluffs, wending through the misty Redwoods. Ahead of me, the Eel River is a glittering serpent in the early morning light, slithering toward the coast. Subtle. Sleek. Beautiful, yet deadly. It has claimed many lives.
I think about that now, as I park my car near the old bridge and meander toward the bluff, I’m still uncertain where I’m going. The Call of Fall is strong, here, but where is it taking me?
On the mountain above is an old train-track. Below it is the “bottomless river gorge”—where a locomotive passenger-train ended up many years ago.
Old Timers recall the wreck…The screams of terror echoing against the bluffs as the train plummeted into watery darkness. The bodies remain there to this day—buried deep within the gravelly bowels of the Serpent…A sleek serpent whose appetite is never satisfied.
The Eel River has consumed many hapless victims.
I turn to stare up the mountainside. Up there is another serpent—winding through the earth. A long black Tunnel. It’s where the ill-fated train was heading just before it derailed and plunged down the mountainside.
I’m standing there thinking about it when suddenly, a clamor arises in the distance, drifting to my ears on the breeze. A ghostly, echoing barrage that seems to come from the direction of the tunnel. The sound dies away.
Intrigued, I turn and work my way uphill, through poison oak and briars, panting, grunting, sweating. Whatever secrets this place holds—they are certainly well-guarded.
I come at last to the old railroad tracks. They gleam dully in the morning sunshine. Rusty. Overgrown with weeds and trees.
Beyond the trees is the gaping mouth of the tunnel, with fang-like briers hanging downward.
It swallows sunlight, like a black hole in space—not allowing a single sunbeam to penetrate. Deep. Foreboding. There’s no light at the end of this tunnel. Just a mysterious blackness that goes on forever—a place haunted with stale misery…if not ghosts.
There is no sound from within the tunnel. Not a drip of water, or the flutter of a bat. I strain to hear a sound. Something. Anything. There is nothing but silence. Dead silence.
Spooky! I shiver and turn to go.
It is then that I hear a noise—not as loud as the echoing barrage I’d heard earlier, but definitely unnerving. A popping and snapping—like the cracking of invisible knuckles somewhere.
I turn to flee, tripping over briers and roots as I go—knowing most assuredly that I’ve disturbed a cantankerous ghost or two. What else could produce such a horrible sound?
I hurry downhill at a good pace. No need to linger. My spirit of adventure has vanished in the morning mist. This place is too eerie for me—full of unexplainable noises and strange echoes.…
And ghosts who crack their knuckles.
Just then, my cell phone rings. I jump nervously, fumbling for the noisy thing clamoring there in my pocket—drawing my attention back to the present. To the season at hand. To the relative sanity of an autumn day.
It’s a friend of mine on the phone—in quest of fresh berries for her blackberry jam. She wants to know if I can join her….?
I take a deep breath. Of course I can join her! Blackberry hunting…Another autumn adventure. A saner one, perhaps—minus the strange noises and cracking knuckles.
But I don’t try to explain it to this native Californian, of course. (She would be as bewildered as my husband…the dear man in skivvies who stares after me, mystified.)
I sigh and click off my cell phone, taking a deep breath of the rarefied air.
A stiff breeze stirs the trees. The breath of Autumn. Cool. Brisk. Mysterious. A restlessness that precludes the changing of the season. There are new things to discover within the Autumn mist… More mysteries to explore and escapades to embark upon.
Another Autumn Echo upon the breeze. Another Call of the Fall to heed.
And I am ready. Oh yes, I am ready….!