The brilliant colors of autumn have already begun to yield to the browns and grays of middle autumn. Crimson red, golden yellow, bright orange, and deep purple leaves are falling to the ground where their bright flame will slowly smolder turning into detritus and soil. Left behind are the chestnut brown oak and tan beech leaves that give hillsides spotted earth tones that inspire our solemn nature. The night air cools to an occasional frost, reminding us the days with below freezing temperatures are not far away. The cool earth at my feet, as yet unfrozen, is soft from late tropical rains and feels like it is cushioning the blow of the oncoming winter.
The summer that is gone was dry and warm. Green leaves easily turned brown before the first frost on some trees where the soil texture is not suited for holding moisture. And while the summer lacked adequate rainfall it gave us many beautiful days where clouds were few and far between. As the cold weather reaches deeper from north to south every week I like to remember those warm days when neither a jacket nor long pants were required to journey into the wild. Life is, in some ways, simpler during summer. You don’t have to think too much about warm clothes or layers before venturing outdoors to explore the open terrain. Staying cool might be a problem on some days, but mostly that is a minor inconvenience. There is always a lot of work to be done in the summer in preparation for winter but most of it is enjoyable. Preparing a garden, growing vegetables, and putting vegetables up for the winter are all rewarding ways of passing the time. Cutting, hauling, splitting, and stacking wood for the winter fuel supply is physically hard, especially as you get older, but tremendously rewarding. In my mind there is little more satisfying then enjoying a cold beer while admiring a freshly stacked pile of cordwood. You can really see the fruits of your labor.
But, no doubt, autumn is my favorite season. I love the cool, clean air. I love every breath that I pull into my lungs. The fall air somehow brings life into all of these aging cells in my body. I feel younger, more alive, and a lot more frisky on a cool New England fall day. I love that fact that everything changes so much and so fast in the autumn. One day a tree is green, soon thereafter it flames brilliantly before your eyes, and before you know it the leaves are all gone, laying on the ground, and the ones in your yard are begging you to rake them and bring them to the compost pile. Walks in the woods in the autumn yield more visually each and every day. As the leaves tumble to the ground you can see farther and farther in between trees and shrubs. Wildlife is a lot more active too. Bears are busy nearly 24/7 refueling the body and storing fat for the long winter filled with sleep. Squirrels and chipmunks gather nuts and seeds and deposit them in caches where they can later be found and supple sustenance when the winter temperatures are well below freezing. Moose and deer are busy rutting and mating so that their offspring can be born in the spring when weather conditions are more favorable and plenty of food is available. Above all, I love brisk walks with my wife and our two hounds on a cool autumn evening. There is nothing like sharing a cool evening, stars punching holes in the night sky, with those that you love.
Autumn brings us winter which, for me, is the season of exhilaration. I love cold. I love freezing air bursting into my lungs when I am out of breath from snow shoeing or cross country skiing. I love the white landscape. I love the tranquility of a dormant forest. I love the peaceful feeling of taking it all in. I love ice fishing and thawing out my frozen fingers by placing them under my arm pits. And I love taking my bloodhounds into the winter wilds and watching the steam shoot from their nostrils as they run through the deep snow working up a lather. There are a few distractions in winter. Constantly filling the woodstove, snow removal on walks and driveways, and chipping away at ice so that I don’t have an unpremeditated crash to the hard ground are challenging but a necessary part of surviving winter.
There is much to look forward to in the near future; crisp apples, a fall hunt, my favorite holiday Thanksgiving, boring the first hole of the year for a tip-up with my ice auger, watching my dogs roll in the fresh snow, hot cocoa in a ceramic mug, and the never ending warmth of a hot fire emanating from a cast iron wood stove.
May your autumn and winter days be as blessed as are mine.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in October 2010.