The leaves have blown from the trees, a few last stragglers hold sentry over the north woods. The aspen or “popple” trees as Dana calls them hang tough, their golden coined shaped leaves quaking in the wind a stark contrast to the deep blues of a clear autumn sky. We have one birch along the road that refuses to let its leaves go but the last have abandoned The foliage and colors came early and made a hasty departure, ushered by fierce gale force winds and an onslaught of heavy rain. Squirrels rustle through the leaves on the forest floor, jays call in groups through the trees. The freshness and charismatic chill of autumn hangs in the air, leaving frost on the ground and a crunch to the forest floor. The grouse have spent warm days hanging under spruce and now emerge poking around under the beech, clucking along fallen logs and standing still against brown stumps and trees. I have had the pleasure of many autumn walks, some taking me deep into the heart of the forest, others just along old roads in search of new treasures. As the sun sinks I watch the sky colored with rosy tones and orange embers slowly leaving the dusky evening in full swing. A saw-whet owl calls repeatedly in the distance, , at first hard to discern and then as the silence of the darkness grows and I stop my feet I hear him clearly hunting through the woods.
Sunrises at this time of year are amazing the colors will start each morning with pinking hues, ebbing to purple and then in a dazzle of spectacular brilliance the reds will turn on and light up the sky, it will last maybe 30 seconds sometimes less the peak intensity sometimes 10 seconds and then quickly be gone. This must be attributed to the clean crisp cool air of fall. Anyone who has inhaled the deep draughts of north woods air on a sparkling autumn day will attest to its purity and restorative invigorating splendor. The sunrises are equally rejuvenating and good for the soul. One can not help but be awed by such beauty that can leave you enraptured, speechless, and mystified all at once. Combine that with the scent of a gentle breeze blowing in through the firs and pine, and fish jumping in circles from the pond and you have a memory seared forever within the mind’s eye that no photo or video can ever truly capture.
Warm autumn winds gradually merge with the cool wintry breezes that herald the first flurries of snow and the quick early soft love bites of winter’s fiercesome grasp. This is my favorite time to be in the woods. With the leaves and the taunt of snow, so leave the fair weather crowds. In the forest, on the edge of the pond, from the side of the ridge, on a clear cold day with the blue sky above there is absolutely nothing to hear at all except the sound of the wind. Deeply we listen, as I teach my girls the beauty of the simple sound, to savor the sound of nothing but the sound the wind makes as it moves through the boughs of the trees. The birch stand bear the crooked yet delicate branches standing in contrast against the pond, and we watch gray evening clouds move slowly across the sky, colored in gentle bursts by a slowly sinking sun, and a rising venus emerges perfect for little girls to wish upon into the night.
The wood fire hisses in the evening with the sound of a simmering kettle set upon the stove to add moisture to the air. The early darkness of fall forces one inside, so after children are asleep I find myself sitting in the rocker beside the fire. This year I have taken up a book written about a hunting family, a clan of famous, maybe near mythical deer hunters, the patriarch who has unfortunately recently departed this world. This is my attempt to see “what’s all the fuss about.” . Of course, my greatest teacher for hunting techniques is my husband. A man of humility, few words and uncanny knack for stepping into the woods and returning with his quarry. No need for bravado, no need for stories and flashy scent protected camouflaged clothes. Just blue jeans and an old sweatshirt, attention to detail, sharp eyes trained by experience, and ghost like movement in the woods. Compared to his dancing blue eyes and the joy of a day in the woods, the book despite its colorful pictures is dull, to say the least. I am not sure if it’s the male bravado, the endless stream of colorful pictures of scruffy men dressed in flannels with large slain bucks at their side, or the fact that so far it’s a few common sense thoughts that have been dragged into 200 plus pages. I am hopeful to glean useful tidbits and I do. However, I think this was written for a different audience than me. For now most nights the wood fire lulls me into a gentle sleep after only a few pages. Slow and steady, each night the ritual begins, book in hand, tea on the coaster, rocker by the fire, and instant sleep therapy emerges.
The days are shortening, which makes the vivid blue sky and the wintry silhouette of the mountain seem much more mesmerizing. Cranberries are plentiful and in the cool air we spend time harvesting them as a family. Thus rewarded together under a wheeled kerosene lamp chandelier with evening meals of grouse sautéed in garlic, oil, and thyme with a fresh cranberry sauce delectably placed beside. This year it appears wildlife food is also abundant in the woods and I find myself wondering if I shall stumble across a bear in my frequent late autumn woods forays. I have encountered several bear in the woods over the years on the township, and never have found it to be a bad thing. Once alerted to a human presence they amble quickly away, 95% of the time before you ever have the chance to see them, and only on one occasion while cruising some thick fir on mossy ground have I startled one enough to elicit a warning “woof.” I often wonder how many creatures we simply walk by, senses so dulled, sight and scent so dim, we do not smell, see, or hear their presence. Then there are other times, you just have a “sense” that something is near, and I wonder too how many folks cast this instinctual feeling aside. I have learned to listen to it as a glimmer into my subconscious, replaying details, and asking myself what my subconscious knows, that I did not process, was it the quick musky smell , the torn limb, the upturned pebble on the road, what was little detail that is now nagging at my thoughts and saying “Stop pay attention.” For now on this foray, I pay attention to the still blooming aster, the flush of mushrooms, the bobcat track in the mud, and the boreal chickadees above.