At first sight, I wasn’t sure what was under the blazing maple tree. From a quarter of a mile away, I couldn’t tell if the figure was a person or a bird.
Fortunately, I found a route that paralleled the scene and drove slowly down the narrow country road. I clicked a shot with my zoom lens fully extended. A quick review of the picture confirmed my suspicions. I had captured a Great Blue Heron basking in the warmth of the late afternoon sun. But why at this exact spot? Was there water nearby?
I pulled my vehicle forward and found the answers to my questions. A small stream, which I later learned was Cub Run, meandered behind and below the bird and alongside a set of railroad tracks. This gorgeous bird couldn’t have picked a more lovely spot to absorb the welcomed sunrays.
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.
Autumn officially arrived at 10:21 EDT this morning. Scenes like these Amish boys walking to school in the morning mist are common in the fall. Cool, moist air condenses on the earth’s warmer surface. Most likely, however, these youngsters were conversing about who will get to bat first at the morning recess.
A Belted Kingfisher flew furiously over the fresh mown hay towards a neighbor’s pond. Breakfast was likely on its mind.
My farmer neighbor hitched his workhorses and teddered the hay to help it dry. The Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and Cliff Swallows circled the productive locomotion and devoured every insect the man, the machine and his faithful team dispersed.
A refreshing north wind eased the day’s early humidity. No need for a calendar. All signs pointed to August’s end.
A few trees had already begun to transition from their chlorophyll green to their disguised shades. Even before the berries on the dogwoods blushed bright red, the trees’ leaves curled and revealed hints of crimson and lavender.
My energetic wife had already deadheaded the once lovely hosta blooms that adorned the leafy plants in her luscious flower gardens. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, and various butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects had completed their instinctive work.
The hydrangea bush bloomed full and pure against the garden shed. It demanded daily watering in August’s heat and dryness.
Juvenile birds, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows and Blue Jays among them, found the feeders and the birdbaths on their own. Another aviary generation will forge into fall and winter without knowing what lies ahead as if any of us do.
The acrobatics of the American Goldfinches provided free entertainment as they worked over the volunteer sunflowers that sprouted from bird feeder droppings. Fresh food is not just a human preference.
The big yellow school buses began carting anxious and enthusiastic children alike to and from school. I waved to the drivers as they passed me on my walk.
People often ask me if I miss those days; if I don’t have some innate longing to return to my first career. The short answer is, “No, I don’t.”
I loved the children, whether teaching or being their principal. I greatly enjoyed the interactions of parents and staff members, even when we disagreed. I have no resentments or regrets. Neither do I have any wish to reenlist.
My life has moved on. I am the same person, just at a different place in my turn at life’s cycle. I have fond, fond memories of my teaching days and principal days. But now I have neither the desire nor energy to compete in today’s educational whirlwind too often driven by politics instead of common sense.
I would rather sit on my back porch, as I am now, taking in the world as each moment flashes by. I don’t want to miss anything. I want to rise each day to enjoy the sunrise and bid farewell to the evening light that dims all too soon.
Each day is an opportunity to live, to be alive, to help others, to listen, to look, to breath, to pray silently, to work diligently for peace in a troubled world. That is my challenge now.
August has come and gone, always too fast, always too hot and dry. August melds into September.
We can only embrace it, for there are marvelous days ahead. I’ll watch for them whether from my back porch or wherever I might be, knowing that too many in the world will not have the pastoral view or luxuriousness of trusting neighbors that like mine.
It’s my duty to share goodness and joy with others as my life, too, passes from August into September. Isn’t that the real responsibility of all of us at any age?
Low, thick rain clouds dampened any chance for a pastel sunrise. Overnight, a steady rain silently soothed the dry Ohio countryside.
The precipitation continued on the backside of a cold front that had passed before dawn. No one in the family restaurant when I met a friend for breakfast grumbled about the morning’s sogginess.
With the rain and accompanying breeze, golden leaves tumbled down everywhere, sticking precisely where they fell, manicured yards, glassy roadways, muddied farm yards.
The polka dotted landscapes complemented the already picturesque scenery. You would think that red, yellow, crimson and orange spots on green and brown foregrounds would color clash with the soft leafy linear swaths of the rainbow backgrounds. But they didn’t.
One needn’t go out into the mushy elements to inhale the dampened beauty. Leaves cascaded diagonally outside eight-paned rectangles creating natural kaleidoscopes. Out of sight far beyond the windows, a Pileated Woodpecker squawked.
By noon, the rain transitioned to intermittent drizzles. A strengthening sun burned occasional breaks into the misty layers. Glimpses of indigo broke through the unstable gray breeches.
The precipitation regrouped, however, and quickly closed ranks, healing the cracks in the overcast. The quenching rainfall continued off and on the rest of the day.
Strong southerly breezes kept the temperatures tolerable, enough so that windows still stood partially opened to catch what could be the last of autumn’s real warmth. Even when the air chilled in early afternoon and clouds continued the gloominess, fall’s vivid colors boldly splashed bright beauty.
The entire situation seemed improbable, if not impossible. The grayness continued, but the colors radiated as if the dullness invigorated them. Decorative pumpkins glowed more orange. Burgundy mums became potted beacons, like so many buoys, and we were nowhere near a harbor.
Acres of field corn, once rolling waves in emerald oceans, now stood brittle dry and tan, mimicking sandy beaches awaiting high tide. It didn’t rain that much.
Life in Holmes County, Ohio continued unabated by either the showers or the splendor. Traffic actually appeared heavier than normal, both on the highways and at the bird feeders.
Commerce bustled. White-breasted Nuthatches scurried headfirst down a sugar maple’s crackled trunk, hopped to the feeder, and back to the tree satisfied. Blue Jay acorn wars ensued with flashes of blue and clarion victory calls amplified by the dampness.
Nightfall came even sooner than it should have. The persistent cloud deck manufactured more rain. With colder days too soon ahead, any farmer will tell you that it is much better to have the ground well moistened before it freezes.
With no prior killing frosts before this day, I didn’t want to even think that way. But I knew the farmers were right. The rains were welcomed.
It was only one day out of many such fall days. Yet the wet weather, the peeks of sunshine, the brilliant colors, and the lushness of the yards and pastures for this late in the season became a compilation of the cyclical suite we call autumn.
My choice would have been a wind still day filled with fluffy clouds sailing through cobalt skies, a bike ride in short sleeves or a walk in the woods, binoculars and camera in tow. Fortunately, the weather is not yet under human control.
Like my farmer friends love to say, “We’ll take what comes.” It’s what we did, and I was more than grateful to be able to do so.
I sat in the warm sunshine on the back porch steps, eating my simple lunch, taking in all that transpired around me. I basked in the awesome day itself, one of several that we had as summer morphed into autumn.
Typical of fall days in northern Ohio, the day started cool, and took its time warming up. But thanks to skies bluer than my grandchildren’s eyes, the sunshine strengthened to enhance the day to beyond beautiful.
The air warmed, and the wind gently swirled in all directions. Compared to the quiet dawning of the day, everything seemed alive, moving, and vibrant. It was a glorious day, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the Day of Awe.
I’m not Jewish, but I certainly was in awe. I had just returned from my weekly yoga lesson, where the students were again reminded to breathe in, and breathe out. It’s a way to encourage each of us to be conscious of just how important breathing can be.
Given our hustle, bustle lifestyles fueled by instantaneous updates from the outside world through our addiction to our electronic gadgets, we sometimes forget life’s simplest lessons. Breathing is one of them.
So there I was, enjoying my wife’s homemade hummus with crunchy gluten free crackers, a homegrown tomato, homemade refrigerator pickles, some fresh turkey breast and locally made cheese, washed down with homemade mint tea, breathing in, breathing out the beauty of the day. I felt ecstatic, really.
My presence had chased away the Starlings and the American Robins, who were at war over the bright red, ripe dogwood berries. Like most conflicts, it seemed neither side won. In the fracas, most of the berries dotted the ground beneath the trees, their leaves growing more and more crimson.
I breathed in, and saw a family of Chimney Swifts skimming the fields behind our home, and circling over and through our stand of trees. I exhaled with a smile, overjoyed to see the friendly birds again. The ones that occupied our chimney had gone missing a few days prior, likely on their way south, like these chattering brothers and sisters were as they devoured every airborne insect they could.
My solitary picnic didn’t bother the ever-present American Goldfinches, now in their duller decor. They ate right along with me as long as I didn’t breathe too hard.
At the front of the house, I breathed in another pastoral scene. Clouded Sulphur butterflies and bumblebees flitted about the fall blossoms, especially enjoying the blue salvia and bubblegum petunias my good wife had planted in early June. I breathed out a hearty thanks to them and to her for these special, significant insignificancies.
That’s just one of the tenants that I have learned from six months of yoga. Yoga is much more than physical exercise. Your movements, your thoughts, and especially your breathing need to be congruent. I think the pros call it mindfulness.
I don’t know if it was my breathing, the gorgeous day, my tasty lunch, or that combination that put me in such a peaceful mood. I just know that I want to keep breathing in and breathing out as long as I can.
With that, my mind wandered to too many friends I know locally and globally who would love to love this day, yet who have little opportunity to do so. Illnesses and real wars prevent their abilities to breathe in and breathe out the way I was.
Ready or not, fall has arrived. It is an understatement to even say that the signs of autumn are all around us.
Even so, I couldn’t be happier. I love almost everything about fall. The colors, the cooler, less humid weather, the crispness of the air, the foggy mornings followed by clear, lustrous skies, the lulling sounds of crickets, and the rich, airy fragrances all captivate me.
On one recent morning, when the fog filled the lowlands long before dawn, I decided to take a drive around the countryside. I wanted to see what I could see, read autumn’s early signs like so many billboards. They weren’t hard to miss.
By the time I began my trek, the strengthening sun had melted the mist away, revealing a cloudless, deep blue sky, the kind you see in paintings, but seldom take note of when it’s right overhead. I wanted to put my busyness aside, and truly absorb all this glorious day had to offer.
It offered much. I rejoiced that I had traded my time for her blessed offerings.
If I looked close, butterflies zigzagged around the abundant autumn blossoms. They adored domesticated gardens and roadside wildflowers indiscriminately.
Lush fencerows of oaks, maples, ashes and sassafras seemed a tad thinner, losing single leaves with every pulse of the morning breeze. A few trees showed signs of succumbing to the shorter and cooler days. They blushed while their neighbors held fast, verdant.
Commercial businesses joined the celebration, too. Showy seasonal displays of mums, corn shocks, and pumpkins bedecked old vehicles or wagons or wheelbarrows in front of stores. Nature’s natural marketing had friendly competition.
Along roadways, streams and farm fields, remnants of summer’s floral display stood stark and brown, even before a killing frost. Winged insects and assorted animals would munch the seeds of this unsightly bounty.
The rays of the late morning’s sun created beautiful landscapes. Bright red barns, though not newly painted, boldly contrasted with the green, green pastures that surrounded them.
Many a farmer outside our area would love to see such a scene given their parched situations. Years of drought have taken their toll. I am grateful we have been under the extended cooling care of the polar vortex since last winter.
Like giant puffy marshmallows, large, round hay bales covered in white plastic rested side by side along outbuildings and edges of fields. It’s just one more reminder of how productive the hay harvests have been this year. It’s also good to know that the plastic covering can be recycled.
Migrating birds fall out of the morning sky to feed and rest in freshly mown hayfields, or in marshy woodlots. They’ll be off with the next weather front or a favorable north wind to help speed them on south.
Prudent caretakers have lowered and cleaned Purple Martin houses, and covered them for the season. Come the Ides of March, they’ll be spruced up and hoisted for their tenants return.
That may seem like a long time away with the fall only just begun, and dreaded thoughts of winter pondered. However, the older I get, the faster time seems to fly.
That’s why I wanted to spend this morning just seeing what I could see, before October’s steely clouds rush low overhead, spitting fat flakes. That thought alone makes me shiver.
If fall has a fault, that’s it. It leads to winter. Until then, I’m going to enjoy every minute of everyday fall sends our way.