By Jim McGuire
On a recent sun-drenched morning, I gave in to temptation — temporarily ignoring planned work on the whole-cottage remodeling project which has consumed practically my every waking hour since mid-July.
Here it was, suddenly autumn, and I’d been too caught up in my fervent carpentry to notice the seasonal transition. I needed balance, I decided, needed to enjoy a few hours of truant pleasure rambling about a favorite wild area.
Life is surely more than plywood and power tools!
The place I choose sprawls over several hundred patchwork acres — mostly long-abandoned fields, uncultivated for decades. Brush-tangled, briar-patched, pathless. There’s a boggy bit in one corner where a small creek winds between a series of grassy swales. And a low hill where cedar-choked gullies cut into the steep side-slope, with a mature beech, oak, and hickory woods covering the top.
On the manmade side of things, there’re foundation stones scattered here and there, a couple of cellar holes, bits of rotting timber from the crumbled farmhouse, barn, and outbuildings. Plus pieces of cast-off farm implements lurking in the weeds, and snarls of rusty barbwire and tumbledown sections of old pasture fencing, all waiting to trip you over if you’re not watching your step.
I hadn’t visited the place since early spring, when I went looking for the snow trilliums which bloom atop the bank of the little creek. Back then the greening reborn world appeared to stretch endlessly ahead. Time aplenty for various hopes and plans. Goals were practically guaranteed.
Alas, it was only the same old illusion.
Time’s eternal river runs steady and swift. Days drift by like leaves upon the water. Sooner than I’d thought possible that season drained away, was replaced by its successor, which in practically the blink of an eye, was itself methodically supplanted.
Spring to summer, summer to fall. A surging, rippling, continuing flood of passing time which we cannot restrain or slow, but only make the most of during our allotted sojourn.
And now, another autumn has arrived. Perhaps the finest season of all to be afield, as the weather is generally ideal and there’s always something to see and do.
As I traipsed about, poking into my favorite hidden corners, the thing which struck me most was just how quickly and emphatically summer had given way—all but disappeared. Everywhere, the look and feel, smell, and sound bespoke pure autumn.
Leaves are starting to turn — though not too fast just yet. But the hickories are yellow, a few sumac have gone scarlet, and along the creek, the Virginia creeper was exchanging its green for a twining braid of winey-red.
Surly, I thought to myself, the first crimson-red swamp maples down in the bottomland will soon be following.
True, the majority of leaves were still mostly green. To be sure, a tired, dusty, yellowing, used-up green…but green nevertheless. Those breathtaking cool fires of blazing reds and dazzling oranges from the maples and oaks and sassafras are still a few weeks away. Yet the change is starting, and its overall pace will doubtless increase daily.
However, in spite of the sunshine and mild temperature, the air carried a certain residual briskness. Also the blended scent of hickory nuts and fox grapes, woodsmoke and some indefinable, redolent mustiness I always encounter as part of the mix this time of year. An unmistakable fragrance as much a part of autumn as the cobalt skies and seas of bright goldenrods gleaming in the nearby fields.
Then there were the blue jays!
I know blue jays call loud and stridently throughout the entire year. They are always noisy, outspoken birds…at least when they want to be.
But come fall, blue jays step up their raucous clamor by several notches — screeching, screaming, a piercing din that sounds like the vocalized furor of either anarchy or murder.
Loud-mouthed blue jays aren’t much good at keeping secrets. And when autumn arrives, they can always be counted upon to announce it’s presence with a deafening cacophony that can be heard a quarter-mile away!
My intended hour or so afield somehow turned into three. But if I’d eaten a proper breakfast, and could somehow have managed to find a way to assuage the niggling guilt I felt over shirking my remodeling responsibilities, I’d probably have spent the entire day puttering about the quiet sanctuary of those unkept and long ignored fields and woodlands.
Autumn is here — ours to enjoy. And the best way to bid it welcome is on foot, away from the road, back in where a soughing wind still whispers the mysteries of seasonal change.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at [email protected]