Anticipation

Mary Lou, the flowering dogwood outside my window, is changing color – again. Her previously green leaves, shaped with the compound curves of Pringles chips with pointy ends, are turning bright rust-colored as she shuts down the conduits that for the past few months have transported nutrition from the earth on which she stands, to be processed in those then-green solar collectors into more branches and, now, a mass of red berries among the buds that will open next spring into a glorious bouquet of pink ad white four-petaled flowers.

I watch from my writing position as three Gray Squirrels cavort in the branches, occasionally stopping to ingest a few berries. A Northern Cardinal stops by to taste a couple of those berries. I’m always surprised at how many of us partake of the fruits of that solitary tree outside my window – energizing breathing for body and soul.

The Silver Maple and the cherry also are changing color in response to the time of year. What is most interesting is the idea that the leaves already are mostly dead. The tree’s shutdown means no more chlorophyll for the leaves, no more green stuff to hide the natural colors of the leaves. It’s sort of surprising to discover that Silver Maple leaves are, in fact, yellow.

Most evenings, we can hear, and sometimes see, groups of 20 to more than 100 Canada Geese heading south. The geese are not going as far south as they once did. Some waterfowl are not migrating at all, or at least are waiting until later in the year. Credit climate warming with the alteration of avian travel plans. Humans may deny it, but waterfowl know when the ice is about to form on northern ponds, and it’s not happening as early as it once did.

Another reason Canada Geese hang around rather than move south for winter is genetics. Canada geese are programmed to hatch the next generation where the parents were born. More than a century ago, hunters trapped Canada geese, tied them to anchors and used them as decoys to draw more geese within range of the hunters’ guns.

At the end of the season, the hunters kept the “decoys” captive. Some biologic imperatives are not biologically negotiable – ask any teenager – and continuing the species is one of them. There it is; no need to migrate to a nesting ground when you’ve never left it.

So although several hundred or thousand geese will pass by from summer ground to winter, we who live in this part of the flyway can attest a very large tribe has not left for generations.

Meanwhile, carpets of red and orange leaves are surrounding oak and walnut trees. In the woods, visibility is becoming less limited through the branches. Mornings are a mite chilly, though the rest of the days have been notably sunnier and warmer than the experience of my youth would predict. One day soon, I know, the warm caress of running creek water will chill my wandering bones.

Autumn officially arrived with the equinox – that time when the sun is at the celestial equator and day and night officially are the same length. From now until nearly Christmas, the ever-shortening days are of shorter duration than their nights.

It’s a little like getting ready for bed, knowing the rest will be welcome, afraid of missing something wondrous that occurs while I sleep. I putter around, closing in slowly on my cot, the day’s chores completed, until, finally, Í slip under the covers to rest until spring. Or at least morning. Fall is my favorite season, though I eagerly anticipate Mary Lou’s flowery reawakening.

I hope you enjoyed our wander in the forest. Please take a minute to share it with your friends.

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