This past Tuesday marked the first day of autumn, and I feel it. Each morning now I start a small fire in the wood stove, and put on a warm sweater before going outside to fill the bird feeders. Most of the summer birds have left for their southern winter homes. Still, there has yet to be a frost here in the valleys, and a tiny hummingbird still shows up each day to feed from the large blue morning glory flowers.
A large flock of Canada geese called out as they passed overhead. Their anxious honking told of their longing to get to their southern destination, where food is plentiful and life is easier. Their excited calls stir something in me that makes me want to join them on their autumnal adventure. I know their collective calls are happy, but I feel a bit of sadness as they pass by, as if I'm being left behind.
Those of us who stay behind are awaiting the first frost here in the Kickapoo Valley. The pastures look greener than they have since early summer, but one morning soon they will be blanketed with white. That's when the quiet begins - the insects go into hiding, their songs no longer heard at night. Being without insect music until next summer is always a hard realization for me.
Every couple of weeks, I will play a cassette with the songs of nighttime insects such as crickets and katydids. It always refreshes my memories of the summer past. I also have cassettes of frog music and summer bird songs. They soothe my mid-winter longing for summer, and help get me through the long cold season.
The bright yellow-green leaves of the box elder trees are scattered over the flowing dark water of the Kickapoo River. Against the dark background, they seem to glow with autumn color.
The snapping turtles are making their way to their winter dens under the banks of the river or in the soft mud of a small pond. Here they will hibernate until the spring calls them out.
Many of the little hummingbirds have gone south. I'll miss them, and appreciate the work they've done for me - pollinating the flowers that will provide me with seeds for next summer's garden.
Midmorning, I saw a large bald eagle and a red-tailed hawk soaring in circles above me. Autumn is a good time for favorable winds and soaring hawks. They may form large groups for their migration, which may look like a whirlwind of dry leaves as they funnel into the sky, before gliding away on their outstretched wings. A group of migrating hawks is called a "kettle," and it's common to see 100 or more together. Eagles, hawks and falcons may all ride the same wind currents, making quite an impressive sight. Hawk watching is a special treat on these autumn days. I'm always glancing skyward to catch what may be going over.
The little blue spotted salamanders are now finding hiding places under logs and decaying leaves. They still appear at night to hunt insects, which will give them the fat reserves to get through winter hibernation. Like their cousins the frogs, they will stay in a motionless sleep until spring. It is said that humans spend a third of their lives asleep; for amphibians and reptiles in the far north, most of their lives are spent in deep slumber.
I like to celebrate the arrival of autumn with good friends and conversation around the campfire. As winter approaches, my thoughts turn inward, reflecting on the past and planning for the future. Winter is a good time to strengthen the roots of our souls, to learn about ourselves and who we would like to be. In the spring, we will blossom with fresh, new goals.
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