There’s a tale told of an Air Force pilot who, on a mission over the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea, adjusted the altitude and speed of his SR-71 Blackbird — absolutely the coolest aircraft ever built, by the way — to allow him to see three sunrises in one day.

That story popped into my head the other day as we topped a rise north of Branson, Missouri, the moment I realized that Deb and I will witness autumn three times this year. We’ve made changes in latitude and elevation as we travel, and the payoff has unfolded in front of us.

Our first glimpse of fall came along the North Fork during our trek to Kintla Lake, splashes of gold and crimson among the ever-green conifers. Later, slipping across the Northern Plains, we enjoyed bright-yellow oaks and maples arching over a South Dakota campsite.

We arrived in The Ozarks to find only the slightest hint of autumn. It looks like we’ll be here for the whole show, which we’ve heard is spectacular.

Some full-time RVers occupy themselves chasing ideal weather. They pursue the elusive “70°F and sunny,” a variation on the less specific “follow the butter.” Deb and I certainly aim to stay where weather is tolerable, but we have no plans to get silly about it.

We’re parked in a great place. By intent or by coincidence we showed up as the seasons are about to reach their sweet spot for flannel shirts, hot coffee, mulled cider and hearty soups. Pumpkins will be carved and apples will be crisp.

On a cool evening very soon, I believe, I’ll build a long-overdue fire, pour a glass of bourbon and light a cigar. It’ll be my way of welcoming what is, for us, Autumn Number Three.

Our campground neighbors once again are our Canadian friends. Late yesterday afternoon we all went out to dinner, driving north to Lambert’s Café — “Home of Throwed Rolls” — in Ozark, Missouri.

The restaurant is right across the street from where we made our second stop for diesel on Tuesday. You also may recall that Deb and I dined at this Lambert’s location on our way to Arkansas in late June, and we couldn’t wait to get back there for another round of home cookin’.

This time we shared the experience with great company, and the meal was outstanding. Deb had the Chicken Pot Pie — according to the menu, “Savory chicken pot pie, made from scratch every day and served with two sides.” (She chose mashed potatoes and green beans.) Creature of habit that I am, I ordered the “Somethin’ Southern” plate I had last visit.

To recap, that’s “All the white beans a body can eat with your choice of ham or fried bologna and
two sides. Served with a King Edward cigar or Big Red chewing gum.”
It also came with a big hunk of fresh-baked cornbread sitting on a slice of white onion. For options and sides I went with fried bologna, corn and cukes’n’onions.

And the cigar, naturally.

Deb called my white beans and cornbread “a poor man’s meal” — the bare essentials, prepared simply and accompanied by whatever else (if anything) is available. All I know is that it’s my kind of eats, and I cleaned my plate.

Each of us had a big tankard of sweet tea. Strolling waitstaff dropped complimentary “pass arounds” (deep-fried okra and fried potatoes) on our napkins and plates. And yeah, we had hot dinner rolls throwed at us.

By the time we turned back toward Arkansas it was raining. It stormed all night long, bringing us downpours that continued well after daybreak. Until midday the dry creek bed that bisects the campground was running and we had ankle-deep standing water around our site.

Rain will be with us through late afternoon. There’s a good chance that tomorrow will be wet, too, or at least gloomy and damp. This is turning out to be the perfect time for settling and general R&R.

Deb’s taking the opportunity to decorate Ernie for fall with stuff she bought this morning at the local craft store. It’s the first time we’ve done that — trimming the bus for a season or a holiday, I mean — and I’m surprised at how good I feel about it.

Since we landed, and as I decompress from ten-plus weeks of unforgettable travel, suddenly I’m feeling my age. Aches and pains ignored while we were pressing are now obvious, nagging. Over the last 48 hours I’ve been pretty much stationary, if not necessary motionless.

It’s all part of my personal recharge cycle. I’m perfectly comfortable with letting that run its course, and I have the luxury of time.

Today, the 14th of October, also happens to be the 15th anniversary of the day that Deb and I got married. We mark the milestone in a region we’ve grown to love but couldn’t’ve imagined we’d ever see, all while living an American Life that’s the stuff of dreams — our dreams.

To celebrate, we’ll go out to dinner later. We’re thinkin’ that Italian place up the road, the one with the trout farm.

This woman is The Great Love of My Life, her presence in my world the most precious gift I’ve ever received. As the song goes, “If God made anything better than you, he musta kept it for himself.”

I’m a fortunate man indeed.

Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.

#WiseUp #LibertyOrDeath

(Today’s header image: Autumn along the North Fork, Kintla Lake Road, September 10th.)

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