No matter where I am in the world in October, my heart and memories are in my hometown, Big Stone Gap, Virginia. As the leaves turned to green, the mountains vivid shades of red, orange and yellow, it was as if the layers of cliffs and peaks had an Act Two costume change, preparing for the third act, when winter gray and charcoal clouds descended and changed the colorscape once more.
There is a scent in the air in the Blue Ridge Mountains in autumn- vanilla smoke. There is still the musk of the pine trees, but it is cut with the languid scent in the air- and it can only be experienced in the autumn. The earth and its flora prepare for winter, and the natural result is the falling away of the leaves- leaving behind spindly, bare branches that look as though they are drawn with chalk, covering the mountains with a spiderweb of grey.
There were rituals that accompanied the change of seasons. Growing up in a small, southern town, the focus of our social lives was football games on Friday night. We lived within walking distance of the ball park. I loved hearing the cadence of the drums of our high school band as they marched through downtown and into the park. Our high school band director, David Tipton, was a star- he was hip and funny and brilliant. His wife, Angela created the routines for the drum majorettes and flag girls. There was plenty of Las Vegas sizzle in the corps. I loved when they’d kill the lights in the stadium at half time and our majorettes twirled fire. Not bad for a small town in southwest Virginia- but of course, that was Dave and Angie- pushing the envelope, pushing the band, elevating the performance with their madcap sense of what high school musicians were capable of- evidently, a lot- and it was magnificent stagecraft.
When we filmed Big Stone Gap the movie seven years ago, we filmed in autumn- knowing that there was no set that our designer could create as magnificent as nature’s background as the leaves changed. I attended a football game, just like the old days- this time with Paul Wilson who played Lyle Makin and his brother Patrick, who starred in the movie as Jack MacChesney. It wasn’t the same as the old days- but there were chili dogs and Coca-Cola. There were the hot cinnamon lollipops, square hard candy on a stick- sold by the Band Boosters. There was the energy, the excitement and the cohesion of a community that relished rallying around their team and players, just like the old days. Nothing had changed- just the faces- new ones and old, recognizable ones. Those of us who remembered, recalled a place and time when anything seemed possible.