Autumn is without a doubt my favorite time of year. The air is filled with the musty scent of leaf decay and the drift of smoke from burn piles, wood stoves and fire places. It’s a season that feels like a housecleaning before closing up a beloved summer house, a tucking in of the year’s responsibilities and accomplishments, a cup of warm cider on the porch swing before bed. It’s a time for gathering, reflection, a drift along slow creeks of thought and emotion, a quiet meander through memories.
I grew up in the hardwood forests of north central Wisconsin where autumn comes in a riot of color so stunning some years, the beauty of it can literally take your breath away. Here on the Washington coast, with its tall stands of pine, cedar and fir, autumn arrives a bit more subtly.
We don’t get the same grand splashes of color, but it starts with some of the best weather we experience here in the rain zone, sweet sunny days and near perfect temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s. By September the 6am air begins to feel sharper and the sun, moving into its winter arc, seems to share a richer kind of light, a golden hue that gives both forest and ocean beach a soft amber glow just after sunrise and again just before sunset. The geese begin to gather in large noisy groups along the waterways and in the fields. Something in the quality of their honking seems different, compels me to pause and listen each time they fly over. It stirs a dormant yearning in me to join them when they leave for wintering places and keeps me spellbound, watching the sky and listening until their voices fade away on the horizon.
A series of pine cones plunk to the ground through the branches above. They land near me and continue to drop around me in sporadic pings and plops like hail stones. The squirrels and chipmunks have started the work of summer’s end. They herald Fall’s arrival with a noisy harvest as they begin the task of stashing their winter store.
One of my favorite personal photos is of me feeding a chipmunk at about age three. My mom tells that I was a bit apprehensive, but brave. It seems my love affair with wild things started early and has never left me.
I still love to watch and photograph these sweet-faced, nimble creatures.
On morning hikes and evening walks, squirrels scold and chatter at me, annoyed at my intrusion into their busy work. I watch them peek at me from various lookout posts or see them bluff at bravado in a series of staccato charges down a tree trunk as they tell me in no uncertain terms that I am not welcome!
Evidence of their dining habits and food stashes can be found everywhere. The holes they dig are often stuffed full of the untouched cones they have chewed off and dropped to the ground. The piles of scales left on stumps or outdoor tables and benches from stripped cones are called “a midden”. Research shows that sometimes squirrels will use the same eating spot over generations!
Both squirrels and chipmunks have vibrant, comical personalities, like a beloved aunt whose dramatic scolding does little but bring a chuckle. Their hectic darts and dashes across open space, the animated bounds with pine cones or other bounty stuffed in their mouths make them look like a silly thief who doesn’t realize he could have the loot for free.
In Autumn’s winding down something in me seems to pause briefly, to pull inward, gather up, listen more deeply. Autumn ignites an old soul connection to celebrate harvest, light ancient fires, reminisce with family and friends. Here on the temperate coast it is a golden song that carries the geese, calls the rain and births the patient waiting winter.
Mossy whispers: Listen to the leaves as they leap in trust from the fingers of trees. Watch them skip and cartwheel across the roadways like groups of gleeful children let out for recess. Feel the connection to ancestors. Pause to savor the pungent flavors and aromas of the season. Immerse yourself in Autumn’s full, beautiful song.