Signs of fall are everywhere in this photo of an Amish farmstead that I took five years ago while living in Ohio’s Amish country. The standing corn still waiting to be picked, either by hand or horse-drawn corn picker, is the most obvious. In the background, the tops of the deciduous trees had started to turn red and orange. In the center of the photo, the purple martin house has been lowered for the season, the birds long-parted for Central and South America.
If the calendar has a nostalgic month, October is it for me.
As a child, our father would load his brood of five into the old cream-colored Chevy, and we would head southwest out of our blue-collar steel town to the wonders of Holmes County, Ohio. Oh, the things we would see and encounter.
We’d stop along the windy way of U.S. 62 to sample cheese. We watched horse-drawn black buggies clop along, marvel at the corn shocks standing in rolling fields, and gape at long farm lanes that led to large white houses with big red bank barns. The real show, however, was in admiring woodlot after woodlot ablaze with every shade of orange, red, and yellow.
Dad would photograph the most colorful of the scenes. I couldn’t have imagined that as an adult that I would spend the best years of my life in that setting, among those people.
If I had to pick an ideal month and place to paint an iconic picture of our life, it would have to be October in Holmes County. My wife and I reared and raised our children there. We fulfilled our careers there and made life-long friendships.
During the first decade of our life together, my wife and I lived in the western hills of Holmes County. In October, there was no prettier drive than the road from Killbuck to Glenmont with its seven hills all dotted gold, russet, and yellow. It was a landscape artist’s paradise.
We built our first home on a bluff facing into that lovely valley. The view was always gorgeous in October.
When we moved to the eastern section of the county, our directional orientation and views changed but were equally splendid. Facing east, many gorgeous sunrises greeted us. The brilliant sunsets we enjoyed from the back yard were similarly lovely.
The bucolic scenes of corn shocks drying in fields surrounded by blushing sugar maples, rusting oaks, and yellowing ash and tulip poplars were commonplace, but no less appreciated. I drove back many of those long lanes to converse with the inhabitants of those white houses, and the keepers of those red barns. It was like those childhood visions had become actuality. That’s because they indeed had.
But October served as a double-edged sword of sorts for me. I didn’t mind the changeable weather. If an early-season Canadian clipper arrived, the snow seldom stuck, and if it did, the fluffy whitewash merely enhanced the already glorious countryside.
It wasn’t the weather or even the stinging scent of burning leaves that concerned me, though. Early Halloween pranks brought us volunteer firefighters out at 3 in the morning to douse some of the corn shocks that had been set on fire for pure orneriness.
On more than one occasion, town squares resembled barnyards. Temporary pens of goats and sheep were surrounded by hay bales and relocated corn shocks that blocked the traffic flow.
The good news was that the farmers usually got their livestock back safe and sound. Fortunately, that tradition has waned with the advent of security cameras and alarms.
We haven’t experienced such shenanigans during our two-year stint in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. With consecutive dry summer and fall months, the autumn leaf colorations can’t compare to those of our former home either.
I suppose that is what in part drives my pleasant autumn nostalgia for those bygone Holmes County days. October does that to me.
The morning sun broke through the layer of cumulus clouds to perfectly highlight this hillside farm west of Harrisonburg in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Even though they were past their peek coloration, the sun-drenched buildings of the farmstead nicely accentuated the leaves of the mixed hardwoods.
Everybody has favorites. From favorite ice cream to a favorite sports team, we humans tend to quantify and qualify most everything.
Months of the year are no different. I’m as guilty as the next person in this category. October is far and away my favored month.
I’m likely not alone in stating the primary reason for liking October so much. The ever-changing color schemes fascinate me. Living all of my life in areas where mixed hardwoods warm the landscape with vivid, fiery colors makes that choice easy.
I hope I never take that annual beautification for granted. That’s because no two autumns are alike. So many factors go into just how colorful the trees will be. Half the fun is anticipating the intensity of the leafy rainbows.
We wonder what effect the persistent wet weather of the summer will have on the colors. Will they be bright or will they be dull? Will the leaves even last long enough to fully color, or will they succumb to gravity’s inevitable tug and prematurely tumble to the ground?
I know that may sound like a silly question. But my wife and I have already noticed that the leaves of the red maples in our yard in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley began falling days ago. Last year they hung on red and green until well after Halloween.
If we pay close attention, nature sometimes offers us a sneak preview. Certain sections of particular trees begin to turn long before the rest of their foliage. Sugar maples are especially prone to this phenomenon. Could it be the compounding effect of the day after day absorption of the sun’s intense first rays during September and October mornings?
Trees aren’t the only canvas on which nature paints though. Fall also displays her colors among the agricultural harvest in the waning days and weeks of the growing season. The warm hues of gourd and squash varieties rule produce stands and supermarkets everywhere.
Those yellows, oranges, and crimsons contrast nicely with their hosts’ rich greens. Mums and sunflowers testify to the validity of these facts, too. The array of fruits and vegetables available also join the splashy seasonal show.
Restaurant menus highlight the food of fall with autumn entrees and beverage offerings alike. However, I’ve not joined the pumpkin-spice-flavored-everything club. I’m happy with my wife’s homemade gluten-free apple crisp washed down with a glass of delicious and locally produced apple cider.
Milder and less humid air is a welcome change from the steady heat and humidity that filled summer and early autumn days, especially here in Virginia. As I have unfortunately discovered in my first year of living in the Commonwealth, invisible pollen particles fill the air awakening allergies I didn’t know I had. So for selfish reasons, I look forward to the first killing frost.
I realize that the end to the growing season means we are closer to the cold and dark of winter days. But the earth still turns on its axis and rotates around the sun. Without winter there can be no spring.
Perhaps I am too taken with the overall aura of October itself. Our North American society has made October a festive month with one community celebration after the other. Consequently, food truck operators work overtime to meet all the demands for their tasty treats.
All in all, October is fall’s time to shine. With the harvest in full swing, October is a celebratory time. For me, that is excuse enough to elevate the tenth month above its jealous siblings.
My wife and I sat on our back porch enjoying a light lunch. A gentle breeze sifted through the backyard as monarch and skipper butterflies flitted about, buoyed by the day’s brightness and coaxed on by instincts humans have yet to understand fully.
The rhythmical hum of neighborhood lawnmowers joined in concert to drown out the hypnotic cadence of the cicadas and katydids. As if they were following instructions, the leaves of red maples and sugar maples were beginning to blush just a tinge of their real color hidden all spring and summer by the chlorophyll.
Try as it might, Daylight Savings Time can’t delay the inevitable. The sun and the moon, the stars and the planets, work their seasonal magic, triggering an unstoppable unfolding of goodness and allergies alike.
Even in the noontime heat and humidity, senior citizens and expectant mothers walk their dogs on the broad neighborhood streets. In some cases, it’s the other way around, leashes fully extended, human arms straining to keep control and still chat on their cell phones.
Dragonflies dart here and there, somehow avoiding being lunch for some hungry migrating birds. Black and turkey vultures circle overhead, letting the convection vortexes carry them higher and higher.
White and yellow Sulphur butterflies zigzag their way past my window as if imitating fallen leaves being blown through the yard. A few grasshoppers jump from one blade of grass to another in short flights like so many commuter planes.
Summer’s full corn moon has come and gone in one cool weekend, a pleasant relief from the storms and heat. But come Monday, the late summer swoon returned, ushering in more warm and muggy weather all across the eastern United States.
So intense was the dreaded combination of atmospheric siblings heat and humidity, some schools mercifully canceled or dismissed early. Without air conditioning, students and staff swelter, unable to conduct the proper learning processes.
That weather, however, eventually ends. Sooner or later, September’s customary, soothing elements do return. Blue-sky days precede comfortable evenings followed by starry nights. Unless infiltrated by tropical storm remnants, thunderstorms come and go without catastrophic consequences.
That’s what makes September the jewel in fall’s seasonal crown. It quietly but most assuredly melds August’s stubborn temperament into October’s Technicolor Dreamcoat landscape.
Until the first killing frost, September is the pollinators’ paradise. Squadrons of bees, flies, ants, butterflies, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths follow the sweetness from fall bloom to fall bloom.
The mums’ warm colors have replaced the showy bubblegum petunias as the go-to domesticated floral display. Melons, gourds, pumpkins, and squash take center stage at produce stands. Thorny thistles and goldenrod populate the rural roadsides until they meet their sickled doom.
The furry critters must note the changes as well. The squirrels and chipmunks are bolder, more aggressive in their foraging, which is only appropriate. Their lives likely depend on the amount they stored if they can remember where they put their cache.
The morning and evening chatter at the backyard bird feeders is diminished to Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinals, with the Carolina wren making an occasional soliloquy. Now and then the northern mockingbird will chip in a few bars, too.
Once the winter migrants show up in a month or so, that scenario will change. Until then, we’ll enjoy the spontaneous choruses of the crickets, katydids, and cicadas. We’ll joyfully anticipate autumn’s arrival while summer’s pleasantries still linger.
It’s another quiet morning in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The warming sun has climbed high above Massanutten Mountain to begin evaporating the valley fog and mist wisp by wisp.
The leaves of the red maples in our yard have started their annual process of revealing their true colors and the reason for their designated nomenclature. Even before they fully blush, a few tumble one by one onto the still luscious grass beneath.
The school buses have already made their morning rounds. It’s quiet now, with only the sound of blue jays squawking in the distance. My wife is her busy self, the washing machine already spinning its first load. Still, I can hear the soft sound of the dry mop gliding over the oak floor. Neva is in her realm.
Orange and brown wreaths have replaced the sunny summer ones on neighbors’ front doors. Pumpkins and pots of yellow and scarlet mums beckon visitors from their sidewalk setting.
The signs of autumn’s arrival have been overlapping with those of summer’s waning for weeks now. The outer rows of massive cornfields have long been cut and chopped into harvest bins. The rest will soon follow until the silos are full. The Old Order Mennonites drive horse and buggies to church. They wheel huge tractors down narrow country roads into their sprawling farm fields with no thought of contradiction.
It was a pleasant summer, our first as residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Folks kept saying that this wasn’t a normal one for Virginia. With intense hurricanes brewing and massive wildfires sweeping the west, is there such a thing as normal weather anymore?
The chimney swifts that called our neighbor’s flue home for the summer disappeared days ago. Ohio friends have reported flocks of common nighthawks winging south. Shorebirds, some rather rare, made pit stops in the Funk Wildlife Area, Killbuck Marsh, and Beach City backwaters to the delight of novice and hardcore birders alike. Those, too, are sure signs of fall’s arrival.
Starlings, northern cardinals, and cedar waxwings have already obliterated the bright red dogwood berries even before the trees’ curling leaves have completely transitioned from green to crimson. The Carolina wrens provided the soundtrack to the feeding frenzies.
Just as we did the summer, we anticipate with wonder whatever our first Virginia fall delivers. Neva will continue to play chief cook and bottle washer for our daughter’s household until the volleyball season subsides in early November. Just like all the other seasons, I’ll continue to do whatever I’m asked or told to do. Usually, it’s the latter.
Seasons come and seasons go. Life marches on. We embrace each moment of each day with joy no matter the silliness, pettiness, and egotistical disposition of those in more powerful positions than the rest of us.
That, my friends, is the way it is. We must keep on keeping on no matter the season, the situation, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Rake leaves with a smile on your face. Stop and talk with your neighbors who are likely doing the same chore. Share your abundant tomato harvest or a freshly baked apple pie with others. The results will be delicious.
Enjoy the pleasant fall weather, the changing of the leaves, the foggy mornings, the brilliant sunrises, the stunning sunsets, and each moment in between. In the process, autumn will fall most graciously upon you and yours.
A day after I cleaned up the leaves from our yard, the rain, the wind, and gravity conspired to undo my work. It was to be expected, especially when a grove of deciduous trees surrounds your house.
I sat by the office window and watched the spent leaves rain down like snow showers in January. A gusty northwest breeze twirled the faded leaves every which way, performing independent pirouettes in a splendid ballet. Their curtain call played out on the front lawn.
I’ve seen this performance before of course. Every year about this time. However, this fall’s frolic struck anew at the melancholy that I felt about the scene, the season, my station in life.
Perhaps the steely sky with its dense layer of leaden clouds set the mood for the day. It couldn’t have been the Indians loss in the seventh game of the World Series or the lack of sleep from watching the previous week’s worth of late-night contests. When you’re a Cleveland sports fan, denial is an all-consuming trait that blinds and dulls one’s wits.
Yet, here I was in my stupor enjoying the unfolding act, blah as the elements were. The living picture painted before me seemed just about right for the occasion, and definitely for the season.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hung over from too much adrenaline-driven loyalty and sleep deprivation. However, I couldn’t help but sense that my malaise was so much more than that.
Seasonal changes do that to us, especially as we age. Like the falling colorful leaves, the Greatest Generation is also fading fast. They bequeath their burdens to their progeny, unworthy boomers who think they have changed the world for the better when it’s clearly the other way around.
Perhaps it was because my wife was still fulfilling her autumnal obligations in Virginia. Only the delicious day before I had taken lunch and supper alone on the porch. I missed her company and her cooking.
The blustery day wore on as dreary days can do. But in the process, a slow metamorphosis transpired. I would have noticed it earlier had it not been for my manly self-pity.
Patches of blue began to divide the gray cotton rolls roiling overhead. Even the wind subsided, providing an intermission to the leafy operetta. I began to take notice, to think outside myself, to seek the wisdom of others through writings and paintings and photos.
I called my friend Dan, who only recently had lost his father. I had missed the viewing and wanted to visit to express my sympathies. He invited me up to his place in the early evening, which I accepted.
Dan wanted me to arrive about an hour before I showed up. I wanted to shoot the sunset first. The sky had significantly cleared by early evening except for a few high clouds, the kind that often makes for a splendid sunset. Just when I thought the western drama had waned, a fiery encore danced across the sky.
I stopped the car just a quarter of a mile from Dan’s. His observant wife Anna saw the vehicle and figured it must be me. It’s a good feeling when your friends know you so well. They welcomed me into their humble home, and I gleefully shared my photos.
When the clock struck 8, I knew it was time to leave. Otherwise, I’d likely still be there, conversing and listening and laughing, though life had fallen heavy upon us like the morning’s leaves waltzing to the grass.
With our numerous stands of mixed hardwoods, I always look forward to fall’s colorful leaf display. In our busied lives, however, the transition from green to gold seems to take forever. But in a flash or a persistent wind, the trees all stand leafless.
That realization confronted me as the autumn leaves reached their vibrant peak when I received word of Ivan’s death in the middle of the afternoon. Ivan was a valued member of the cancer support group to which I belong. I had visited with him in the hospital only a week earlier knowing that his time was near.
Still, when I heard the sad news, tears of sorrow flowed for Ivan and his family. Our intimate group had welcomed him in, and he contributed far more than his usually quiet demeanor would have suggested. Later that same evening, joy overcame my sadness as my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, claimed Major League Baseball’s American League pennant. It was a bittersweet moment, one that Ivan would have relished with me.
Right after the final out, I called my friend Tim, also an avid Indians fan. He was as giddy as I was. When I invited him to the first game of the World Series, I think he fell over.
I was fortunate to have secured tickets for the opening World Series game long before the Cleveland club even began the postseason. I hoped beyond hope that they would make it, and they had. I wanted Tim to share in the joy of seeing a World Series game in Cleveland with me.
The leaves were still coloring up when I left Virginia’s majestic Shenandoah Valley the next day to return home for Ivan’s viewing. Paying my respects to the family became a personal priority.
I had traveled the same roads from Ohio to Virginia just after visiting Ivan the previous week. The leaves in the mountains of western Maryland and northern West Virginia were near their peak. Those in both Ohio and Virginia were turning, but still had a ways to go.
I was amazed at what a difference those few days had made. Patches of red, gold, and burgundy dotted the forested mountain slopes. On the ridges above, giant white windmills twirled in the autumn breezes.
I thought about Don Quixote jousting with those Dutch windmills. I was satisfied to simply photograph this real live contrast of beauty and the beast and continued on my way.
When I got to Maryland’s mountains highest altitude where I thought the colors would be the brightest, I was disappointed. Many of the leaves had already dropped. Some trees were completely bare.
When I stopped for lunch, I commented to the waiter about my disappointment in missing the peak coloration. I was three days too late, he said.
That happens in life. Our timing just isn’t what it might have been.
It was dark and pelting rain when I arrived at home. But just the illumination from my car’s headlights told me the sturdy sugar maple in my backyard was glowing showy orange.
The combination of rain and wind brought down lots of leaves. But plenty remained for all to enjoy.
Baseball. World Series. Friends. Fall’s coloring contest. I know these precious moments will all wither away like the last leaves of autumn, which passes by us in a vapor.
Life can be like that, too, a hard but applicable metaphorical reality.
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