Overnight, the landscape had changed. The green grass, sprinkled with broad-leafed weeds, had taken on a new coating.
The longleaf pine needles had fallen with the timing of a theater curtain. All leaped to their deaths together, a mass suicide of the pine needles. The shrubs and the lawn all wore a new coat of brown needles that gave the yard the look it takes on after an unexpected snowfall, but with brown needles instead of white flakes. The needles clung to the juniper and the azaleas. They coated the lawn and formed a brown carpet over the asphalt. No Winter Wonderland, this was an Fall Fling, a takeover by the needles that usually hide in plain sight high up in the longleaf pines. It was a coating as thorough as any early snowfall.
"Here's to the land of the longleaf pine," goes the state toast, and in the eastern half of that state, the longleaf pines still thrive, though not in the masses that once covered the Coastal Plain right down to the shoreline. The tall, thin trees are worrisome to some residents, who know they can snap in hurricane winds and fly like a javelin through a bedroom wall. These trees need a forest where they can cling together against the wind. A yard tree all alone cannot hide from the hurricanes. Chain saws eliminate the possibility, no matter how remote.
I've paid men with chain saws and trucks to take out diseased trees whose needles had all fallen, and limbs and bark, too. But I've nurtured the other trees, and this Monday, after a weekend away, I find my yard turned brown, coated like a cake with too much brown frosting, dripping and uneven over the shrubs.
With a rake, I coax the needles into piles, from which they will mulch flower beds and herb gardens. I find the green still there beneath the needles, and the driveway's black beneath its brown cloak. The needles will find their place, though my labor. Here's to the land of the longleaf pine. Grab a rake.