Sean of the South: Autumn in Birmingham


By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South

The first day of fall arrived in Birmingham. It came frighteningly quick. Yesterday it was summer, hotter than the hinges of hades. This morning it was cold as gumballs.

Sean Dietrich (Photo courtesy of seandietrich.com)

But that’s Birmingham weather for you. At least that’s what everyone has been telling me since we moved here.

“Birmingham has all four seasons!” they all say while cheerfully bailing floodwater from their foundations.

Well, it has been my experience that Birmingham undergoes more than four basic seasons. It’s more like eight or nine seasons. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but that’s only because you live somewhere else.

The first week we moved to town, Birmingham underwent every major meteorological event known to Wikipedia, with the exception of subtropical waterspouts.

That first day, it snowed and the streets were covered in rock salt and emergency crews. Then there was a hailstorm that lasted for 24 hours. After which, Birmingham experienced “glaze frost,” wherein all vegetation was covered by a homogeneous coating of ice. And all this was just on the Fourth of July.

Then, only one day after the freak snow, came a snap of hot weather. Suddenly, people were wearing flip flops, doing yardwork. All was well. Two days later, it rained so hard it flooded downtown and a man trying to get into his car drowned on 24th Street.

The VERY next afternoon, shortly after lunchtime, ominous, black clouds gathered above the city while I was cutting the grass. Then tornado sirens started howling. People were hurrying indoors. Neighborhood kids ditched their bicycles and sprinted home. The world began to rumble.

Perky TV reporters told us to hide in the basement and wear protective articles of clothing. Within minutes, my wife and I were huddled in a closet wearing bicycle helmets and baseball catcher’s facemasks.

That was my first month in Birmingham.

And if Birmingham weather doesn’t get you, the sinkholes will. Yes, sinkholes.

They happen all the time. Just last year, a large geological hole opened up in Midfield. This occurred in the parking lot of Auto Professional Car Sales on Bessemer Superhighway.

The ground reportedly made noise, “like a belching sound,” and the earth opened. The hole swallowed two automobiles.

And yet, here’s the thing. Nobody seemed surprised by the incident. “This is Alabama,” said one local witness. “If you don’t like sinkholes, you’re in the wrong state.”

Like them? We love sinkholes in Alabama. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s exactly what attracted me to move to the Twenty-Second State.

Alabama happens to be home to one of history’s most famous sinkholes. According to many geologists, Alabama has the largest sinkhole in the United States.

The Golly Hole, in Shelby County, Alabama, near County Road 84. The hole has a diameter of 350 to 400 feet, larger than a football field. The depression is 120 feet deep—about the height of a municipal water tower.

“It’s like staring into hell,” said a local man who remembers when this sinkhole happened in 1972. “It swallowed everything, even forest. It was like the end of the world.”

Consequently, every house in my neighborhood has sinkhole insurance. Seriously.

The salesman who sold us this insurance came knocking only two days after the tornadoes. He carried an official binder and briefcase, not unlike a dutiful representative of the Watchtower Society.

“Excuse me sir,” his speech began. “Do you know what you’d do if your house was swallowed by the earth?”

Something else nobody in Birmingham tells you about are the bears. There have been record numbers of bear sightings near Birmingham within the last few years.

Biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources say the uptick in sightings is due to a combination of factors. “The bears are getting annoyed with humans,” says one expert.

According to scientists, bears are irritable for many reasons, including habitat fragmentation, forced migration, delayed summer mating periods, and the recent Alabama-Texas game.

A few weeks ago, I called a zoologist shortly after my neighbor swore she saw a bear in her backyard, eating birdseed.

The zoologist said, “Well, it’s not likely, but it’s definitely possible that she saw a black bear. Someone recently videoed a black bear wandering around the Waffle House in Leeds.”

This expert stressed that bear sightings are rare occurrences. He says most spring and summer bear sightings in Alabama are just juvenile males being pushed out of their territories by mothers and adult males.

There’s nothing to worry about, the zoologist says. “Bears will not kill you unless they’re hungry.”

So as autumn approaches, and leaves begin to fall, I count myself fortunate to reside in Birmingham. A magic place where many colorful changes occur within the natural world.

As it happens, I’m okay with change. Change keeps life vibrant. Change makes life wonderful. Which is why I love the first day of fall. Because I don’t want to live in a world where there are no Octobers.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the tornado sirens are going off.

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