My wife and I had heard of Blackwater Falls State Park near Davis, West Virginia. But we had never been there. When our neighbors told us that the leaves were at peak color, we did a day trip to check it out. We weren’t disappointed.
It had rained the previous day, so some of the trees had dropped a few leaves. Still, the Blackwater River valley was gorgeous from every angle. This was the view from our lunch table outside the lodge. The scalloped designs and curves of the pair of love seats and the end table in front of us created an intriguing foreground for the lovely leaves beyond.
This was our view every fall when we lived in Ohio’s Amish country. I took this shot from our backyard. The sun had just risen above the hills to our east, bathing everything, including the already colorful leaves, in pure gold.
Even though the morning’s southeast breeze was gentle, the leaves rained down like ticker-tape parade confetti. I was in my favorite outdoor space, Shenandoah National Park’s Big Meadows.
Big Meadows is an anomaly. No logical or scientific reasons can explain why the expansive meadow sits in the middle of this popular national gem.
Scientists have determined that there is nothing unique about the soil’s geologic makeup or bedrocks below that would create a meadow in the middle of a forest. In a matter of yards, the foliage changes from plants of a kettle-like marsh to wooded hillsides. I imagined Big Meadows as God’s thumb stamp of approval on these ancient mountains.
In the short time we have lived in Virginia, I’ve found fall is my favorite time to visit this gorgeous spot. From our valley home, the weather appeared to be perfect. But when you visit the mountains, conditions can be changeable at any time of year. I packed for the unexpected, and that’s what I got. With every step, creation’s glory unfolded.
You could hardly call my creeping along as hiking. I followed the parameter of the southern part of Big Meadows. In three hours, I covered only a mile and a half. A wooly worm would have made more progress, but likely not shared my joy.
I wasn’t out to break any endurance records. I went to see whatever came to me as I strolled along and through the area’s various topography. In the mountains, just a change in altitude of a few feet makes a big difference in the kinds of vegetation that grow.
This gently sloping mead is home to flowers, grasses, reeds, trees, and assorted creatures great and small. As an invader of their varied habitat, I tried to remain obscure.
With fall’s migration, I knew plenty of bird species might be passing through on their way south. I expected year-round residents, too, along with a few lingering butterflies.
Resident eastern bluebirds and handsome field and song sparrows greeted me. Eastern phoebes, magnolia warblers, blue-headed vireos, Carolina chickadees, and dark-eyed juncos darted about, too.
Dressed in their duller non-breeding feathers, some birds, especially the warblers, went unidentified by this average birder. Chirps near and far came from other species that I couldn’t locate.
I crept along the raggedy edge that separated fields from woods, exhilarated. I lingered in a high place beneath a sweeping white oak at the meadow’s southernmost border, where I could see near and far.
Contentment filled me as I sensed all the life around me. Instead of hiker, birder, or photographer, I was an uninvited but appreciative guest. Every moment bore existential meaning.
The first frosts of the season created a festive carpet of fall’s primary colors that spread across the landscape. The leafy trees and evergreens looked on in envy. Red-tinted green leaves, spent wildflowers, delicate ferns frosted golden, ruby-colored blueberry leaves, and russet grasses decorated the earth like it was Christmas.
Overhead, the sky also joined nature’s artistry. One minute, it was pure cerulean, the next white fluffy clouds.
Suddenly, a fog rolled in from the eastern piedmont. The steady breeze soon carried it to the western slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I breathed an appreciative silent prayer of gratitude for all these sights and sounds. The old withered away, yet the promise of rebirth remained.
At every step that I took, I was delighted to have observed all that found me.
October offers up some of the year’s best weather. It often claims ownership of the year’s first killing frost, too, and the first snow. Sometimes it’s both.
October and I have a lot in common.
Weather is one of my favorite hobbies. I have satisfied that itch as a volunteer severe weather spotter for half a century for the National Weather Service. However, October is usually one of the quieter weather months unless a tropical storm plays havoc across the eastern U.S. Evidence 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.
October tends to be the calendar’s buffer between fairer weather and the more barren, colder months that follow. In other words, the tenth month foretells the winding down of every year. There can be no better year than the present to draw to a close. I doubt that I need to elaborate or provide the gory details.
Enough of the quixotic shenanigans. October and I have much more in common than climatological conditions.
I’ve entered the October of my life. I stay as active as I can, but it’s pitiful to watch me throw a tennis ball for our granddog to fetch. Millie is so unimpressed that she often refuses to give up the retrieved ball I’ve thrown.
Millie knows that my toss can’t compare to that of our oldest grandchild, the 16-year-old with a pitcher’s arm. Millie gets to run far beyond one of my feeble efforts.
Before and since my knee replacement a year ago, I have maintained a regular exercise routine. I also do yoga twice a week. I try to walk a mile every day. I ride my bike around and up and down our inclined neighborhood. To look at me, you wouldn’t know that I do any of that.
I have never been a muscular guy. But I usually could hold my own in most physical activities. Not anymore.
I am not ashamed to admit it. I’ve accepted where I am in life. I also kindly relent to any assistance from passersby when I’m toting multiple bags of mulch or birdseed, or anything heavier than a gallon of milk. I’m old, and I want to get older. So I quash my male ego and accept offers to help.
A few years ago, Walter C. Wright wrote a book, “The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future.” It’s a workbook to help you ready for retirement and beyond. It’s an easy, practical read. The hardest part is accepting the fact that you are in that senior citizen-stage of life. For some, it comes sooner than it does for others.
When I was young, I’d spouted off that I would live until I was 100. I have longevity on both sides of the family to back that up. But I also have ancestors who never reached retirement age.
Like leaves on deciduous trees, I want to keep on hanging on as long as I can. However, the leaves, of course, eventually color, fade, and fall.
I also understand that that is where October and I differ. After the foliage tumbles, buds protrude for next year’s crop to unfurl, and once again nurture the growing tree with a thriving canopy.
Humans don’t have that option. We get one shot at life unless you believe in reincarnation. For the record, I don’t. But if I did, I would return either as a chiropractor or a meteorologist.
October is a fine month of the year. I have fond memories of her from childhood to the present. Here’s to many more nostalgic Octobers for everyone.
It’s not what you might think. I don’t close my eyes, of course. I just enjoy the peace and the time alone to think. I don’t forget about driving. It would be both foolish and dangerous to do so.
I try to allow extra time for a more leisurely drive. I avoid superhighways. Backroads are my preference because I never know when I might need to stop to take a few photos of the fantastic scenery that Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley affords.
Unlike my younger years, I drive silently. No radio, no CDs playing. I enjoy the quiet unless the road surface is too rough. Then I take in the music that my tires sing to the tune over the various macadam surface textures. The octaves change by the mile.
I’ll use the GPS when I have to. Once I know the way, however, I am on my own, like the other day when I had a doctor’s appointment 35 miles away.
I left nearly two hours before my 2 p.m. appointment. Besides a couple of brief planned stops, I knew there would be photo opportunities along the way. I had been that route before.
Driving in that contemplative state helps to clear my mind from all of life’s noisiness. Plus, I get to enjoy the mountains to my left and mountains to my right. In between, there is nothing but gently rolling countryside dotted by farms, fields, forests, and more gigantic chicken houses than I care to count.
Weather permitting, I ride with the windows down and the sunroof open. I sometimes pay the price if I pass a freshly manured field.
This trip turned extra-special. Once I passed Sulphur Pump Road, I turned south on the narrowest windy way with no ditches and farmers’ fences hard against the blacktop.
The paved path twisted and turned, rolled up, down, and around until I made a slight right onto Battlefield Road. In less than a half a mile, I crossed a short narrow bridge in the curve of the road. Ahead, an old plantation sat high on a ridge behind a grove of mature pines.
At this exact spot at the bottom of the hill, Americans fought Americans in a Civil War skirmish. Hand-to-hand combat ensued, with heavy casualties on both sides. Today, fruit trees and fence line trees waved in the wind.
No historical marker identified the bloody spot. I knew it from a Civil War class that I am taking remotely. It was this week’s lesson.
Farther south, a couple of miles, two different historical markers on opposite sides of the road defined the facts and sight of a deadlier clash, the Battle of Piedmont. Field corn and an impressive planting of soybeans nearly hid both plaques, while the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park created an enchanting backdrop.
I wondered if people knew what had taken place here, the massive loss of life, the many casualties, and prisoners of war, the consequence of the Union victory. If they knew, did they still hold a grudge or even care?
Did they appear only as fields of corn and beans to them? Were people merely on their way from point A to point B in their daily lives as they passed?
I pondered all of this as I arrived at the impressive multi-storied medical office building. I donned my mask, had my temperature taken, responded in the negative to all of the required COVID-19 questions, and waited my turn for my 21st-century exam.
Fall in the Northern Hemisphere has officially arrived! I always welcome the fresher, cleaner air, less humidity, and cooler temperatures.
The first sunrise of autumn on September 23, 2013, brought all of that and more. As you can see, fall got off to a foggy start that day.
This photo was taken as the sun filtered through a typical September morning fog in Ohio’s Amish country, where I used to live. The wagon in the alfalfa field is a church bench wagon. It was parked there to provide seating for an Amish wedding.
“Autumnal Equinox Sunrise” is my Photo of the Week.
Residents of the Northern Hemisphere are on the eve of yet another autumnal equinox. Autumn officially begins at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, September 22.
Autumn has given us plenty of warnings even before her arrival. Instead of turning red, many of the leaves on our backyard maple have simply been falling off one-by-one for weeks. We can thank the leafcutters for much of that.
The crazy weather of this insane year has also played a role in the dying leaves, along with other climatological irregularities. Let’s count the ways.
In late spring, an extended spell of chilly, wet March-like days did their damage. The steady damp weather kept farmers out of fields over much of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains.
Some bird species even delayed nesting because the weather was so foul. If birds did nest, naturalists found hatchlings dead because their parents couldn’t find enough insects to feed them.
Then just like that, it got hot and dry. Here in western Virginia, the furnace was on one day, and the air conditioner the next. Vegetation flourished in such conditions, causing the humid, hot wind to carry various pollens far and wide. According to my allergist, I wasn’t the only one sneezing.
About the time Major League Baseball finally began in July, the heavens opened up. The rains canceled games, and so did COVID-19 because too many players tested positive.
Record rains pelted the full length of the Shenandoah Valley. August usually is a hot and dry month here. Not this year. The weather was more like June should have been. We mowed our lush lawn twice a week for several consecutive weeks.
All the while, fall kept creeping upon us. Butterflies, relatively scarce during June and July, began to arrive. So did the ruby-throated hummingbirds. Now they are all filling up their tanks for their annual southern migration.
Juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
The yellow, green, and black Monarch caterpillars have morphed their way into magnificent orange and black butterflies. Predators have learned to avoid dining on them since the Monarch’s appetite for milkweed renders them bitter, according to lepidopterists.
That dreaded F word, F-R-O-S-T, has already made appearances across the northern reaches of the U.S. Can the rest of us be far behind?
If you listen to the jingles and jargon on TV, this is pumpkin spice everything season. Despite the marketing ploys, I’ll gladly stick to my decaf mocha lattes. They’ll taste just as robust when the first freeze hits.
Of course, hurricane season peaks in the first few weeks of fall. The National Hurricane Center has already increased its predictions for both the numbers and intensities of those tropical storms.
Out west, you can’t breathe the air. It’s so oppressively hot and thick with smoke from record-breaking fires that have caused death, destruction, and devastation to humans, wildlife, and entire towns. More than 10 percent of Oregon’s population has been evacuated as of this writing.
Unfortunately for those millions of west coast folks, the sky has glowed an apocalyptic orange for all the wrong reasons. A good frost or even a lovely blanket of snow would greatly help those tired firefighters slow the infernos.
Autumn, of course, abounds with fiery colors, orange included. In addition to the winged creatures, mums, maples, pumpkins, and gourds are but few of the things that warmly usher in fall.
Climate change has undoubtedly played a part in stirring up 2020’s weird and wild weather. It’s been a universally strange enough year already all the way around.
Let’s welcome fall with a blissful hope for more normal global weather patterns.
We’re already pushing to the middle of September. Have you heard the many melodies she’s already played?
If not, please don’t fret. If September plays her usual gig, she will beautifully and joyously harmonize her way into October.
We have to pay attention morning, noon, and night to fully appreciate September’s numerous odes. It’s a perpetual concert out there.
September has many modes of singing to us. That’s good news for those of us with diminished hearing. The seasonal songs are ubiquitous and indiscriminate.
Crickets, katydids, and locusts lull us with their winged cacophonies. Nature’s stringed rhapsody signals the season’s end and celebrates each day’s closing.
A tiny screech owl’s raspy soliloquy provides a brief interlude to the insect symphony. The chilling tune means trouble for little four-legged rodents romping around in summer’s last evenings.
If you listen carefully, you might be fortunate to catch the call of migrating birds piping on the wing high overhead. If you can’t hear them, aim your binoculars at the moon and enjoy the sideshow.
September croons to us in color, too. Her many blooms of gold, crimson, yellow, red, and even blue paint a many-colored musical in flower gardens, along roadsides, and in unkempt fields.
The month’s repertoire includes occasional towering thunderstorms. Their lightning dances and their thunder booms, drumming fear into almost every canine within miles.
At the storm’s end, perhaps she will surprise us with a dangling rainbow. Look quick before that high note fades. Remember to breathe in the aftermath, refreshing, clean, pure.
September invites us to sing along with her eclectic playlist. The crisp snap of husking the golden ears of sweetcorn is the prelude to perhaps the year’s last fresh corn on the cob.
Of course, the hiss of canners still sings, bubbling with goodness and a kaleidoscope of colors. Besides corn, salsa, beans, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, peaches, grapes, and apples all play their fruitful parts.
I adore the choruses in the outdoors the most. Find a pleasant spot in the woods, and just sit, watch, and listen as the sounds of silence come floating in decorative displays.
Migrating butterflies flutter to their specific tunes. Groups of Monarchs congregate in the coolness and safety of trees until the morning sun dries and warms their wings.
Swallowtails, fritillaries, Buckeyes, and skippers flutter their notes in their particular and various flights. It’s always amazing how they can find the slightest blooming speck to nourish them on their way south.
Brilliant sunrises and sunsets add magical backdrops to September’s forte. The trick is to rise in time to catch the morning show or to stop what you are doing and embrace heaven’s evening song.
The deciduous trees, of course, join the colorful choir one leaf at a time. Their intensity increases as the month wanes. They usually wait until October for their triumphant exit.
Still, whatever voice they can bring to September’s musical is much appreciated. We humans inadvertently join the band with our out of tune rakes and mechanical blowers.
Nevertheless, September’s concert is a joy to grasp. That’s true even if the neighborhood skunk makes an unwelcomed visit.
We can still enjoy the many classical notes of the year’s ninth month. At day’s end, the stars and planets twinkle their universal choruses, glorifying the heavens above.
If we are attentive and diligent, we breathe in deeply this joyous song of creation with all of our innate senses. Consequently, September would love to have you sing along.
Touring around the Shenandoah Valley, we stopped at a local orchard and vineyard. Noted for both their apples and cider, both hard and regular, Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse has the perfect spot to while away a late summer afternoon.