Nature Notes: Autumn
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By Ed Robinson
I just can’t help it, I’m not a hot weather kind of guy. Oh, I know, this year’s summer weather has been nothing short of amazing, unless you happen to be a farmer. Weeks on end of sunshine, few of those steamy days that remind you of Florida, no cloud bursts to ruin your picnics – it has been an exceptional season for outdoor activities of all kinds. But when it gets above 75 degrees, I start to bake, and I really get excited about autumn.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Western New York where the dog days of August can last for weeks, and we had no air conditioning in our old house (it made sleeping a beastly affair). I suspect I have plenty of company in Maine, since the folks who live here seem to avoid the summer humidity of Georgia or the melting tarmac of Arizona. Of course, it is more basic than the weather. Autumn is just so gosh darned beautiful in New England, and there is always so much to see and do before we slide into winter. We lived in England for 14 years and I always felt cheated by their modest displays of fall foliage.
These thoughts were triggered by a trip home from New York in early September, across the mountain regions of northern Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. After a meager rainfall, the skies were crystal clear over cascading peaks, and the swamp maples were starting to turn red (albeit a muted version of their normal glory). The sumacs promised not to disappoint, with bright crimson appearing on the edges of leaves. A few aspens flashed gold, with leaves already fluttering to the ground. Despite the long drive, I felt like a new man.
Spring offers the promise of a beautiful year, but I’m more tempted by the siren songs of the fall. There are only a few more days when I might relax in a twinkling river and cast to rising trout. I’ll take any excuse to leave my desk and walk along the ocean, or simply stand in the woods watching yellow leaves tumble down around me. Those wonderful Indian summer days of soft warmth, light breezes, bright blue skies and vivid colors take a back seat to no others across the year. And a hunter’s heart beats faster as the seasons unfold from September to New Year’s.
Wildlife respond to the change in Nature’s rhythms and the signals that summer’s bounty will soon be gone. Stroll through a rustic field and you’ll find bees and butterflies everywhere, covered in pollen. As acorns begin to fall, gray squirrels hop to the task of storing their winter rations (it looks like a good year for this particular mast). Apples dropping to the ground will not be wasted, as a wide variety of creatures seek out the carbohydrates and vitamins in this tasty food. You may notice that turkeys and deer are more visible, as they try to pack on the fat reserves that will sustain them in the bleak days of late winter.
All of us face a long list of tasks that must be done before we can batten down the hatches for that first snowfall. I’m crazy enough to enjoy cleaning up the leaves, although it might be more fun if I had a kid to jump in the piles with me. The deck furniture has to come indoors, and along the ocean, the grass keeps growing well into November. I try to get my nesting boxes cleaned out before it gets cold, but I’m always wary about finding wasps inside. In our area, banding our hardwoods and fruit trees with sticky tape is vital to fight against the damaging winter moths.
Those of us who enjoy birds say goodbye to many species we have enjoyed all summer, but we have the pleasure of seeing all the migrating birds that pass through our area. Black ducks, red winged blackbirds, woodcock, warblers and many more stop in town for rest and nourishment. While checking my lobster pots the other day I heard a noise behind me and turned to find a loon up close, and there will be more in the weeks ahead, ghost-like in their grey winter plumage.
Autumn can bring on the blues for some folks, especially those who spend the colder months in their own state of semi-hibernation. That long V of Canada geese heading south can trigger sadness that only the flock’s return in March can erase. But that haunting call on the wind is also a signal of another season, when we welcome bald eagles from frozen lakes to the north, or eiders moving down the coast in search of food. If we’re lucky, a snowshoe hike might bring us face to face with a snowy owl. And we can always count on the red squirrels and cardinals to make life interesting at our feeders.
So make mine autumn, the longer the better, and please excuse me if I seem a bit distracted during these beautiful months so lovely and so full of questions. You can take your Speedo and fly south with the butterflies, but I’ve got lots to do and places to be before getting ready for winter!