…to the air of October 12 in the mid-afternoon.
You are here. Finally. I forget that I miss you, that you fill me with gratitude. Carrying the scent of fading leaves, low sunshine, and the inaugural biting night of autumn, you wrap the season I’ve been waiting for into one inhalation. You arrive once after the first ice crystals have painted the asters and shriveled the tomatoes. Lingering, you stay awhile, long enough to etch the feeling of home, but your fleeting nature always leaves me with a serendipitous glow, as if I held the meaning of life in my heart for an instant.
…to the Red-backed Salamander I found while moving firewood.
Accept my forgiveness. In the haste of trying to move firewood for my own comfort, I failed to remember that this pile of logs is so much more to you – shelter, respite, or holy road. You curled, instinctively protecting yourself, in a penny-sized patch of damp moss. Frightened. Gingerly I scooped you up, held you close to my face to make sure no injuries had befallen you. To save further upset I moved you to the bottom of the stack, placed you on the damp earth, and watched you disappear, likely never to seen by me again, into the humus of the woodyard.
…to the squirrels industriously harvesting walnuts.
Crash. Crash. Crash. Remarkable in your efficiency, there seems to be a steady beat as you efficiently cut a walnut from the tree’s top and let it fall even as you sprightly bounce along the twig to the next one. Nip. Crash. Bounce. Repeat. Every once in a while, a walnut ricochets off a branch, careening wildly off course and smacking the tin roof like a miniature cannonball. Bang! Dozens of treasures later, you scamper down the trunk to collect. Seeking soon-to-be winter treats in the duff of the forest floor, you find one and head over the hill, out of sight.
…to the fog that hovers in the creek valley in the morning.
On clear, cold morning in autumn, you erase the landscape I know. You remind me that not all I know is real, and all that is real is not known. Aurora sun on blushing trees blazes and you somehow take the beauty of the scene and intensify it with a blank space. I slow at the top of the hill to let it sink in, the red, orange, yellow, green and gray, all coalescing into a landscape at times so surreal it is almost unbelievable.
…to the shower of yellow and red leaves falling on the trail.
If there is spontaneous frolicking of plants it is embodied by you. With nary a breeze, you twist and spiral and twirl and flip as you race to the ground. Somehow this ancient process of falling to the ground to renew the life you once were is familiar, soothing, and creates a deep joy that will last so much longer.
…to the deer eating the acorns off the road.
Deer! It is not a plate! Surely it is simpler to pick those tasty morsels off the road rather than scouring through brambles and fallen leaves. As I watch your jaws move rhythmically as you grind the bitter nutrition, I hope you will run sooner from the car next time. The roads will be slick soon. Your steel gray coats are coming in nicely, you are plump and seem ready for winter. Fawns, you seem nervous, as well you should be with winter coming. Be careful, little ones.
…to the bluebirds singing and scouting nest boxes.
It certainly does feel like spring, doesn’t it? Yet those nippy nights and chilly mornings are putting the world to sleep, not waking it up. Your song seems more solemn, and I wonder if perhaps you know it is not truly spring, but hope so boldly that you can’t help but sing.
…to the young opossum, raccoon, and skunk all killed on the road Friday night.
If only heartache could resurrect you. I am so sorry. Sorry that the single-minded pursuit of convenience that the human race embodies cost you your lives. Sorry that by preparing for winter and doing only what you know to do, you had to cross a road and intersect a human life, which did not end well for you, as is often the case. Autumn is a time when you dedicate yourselves to preparing for the upcoming winter when life starts to get harder, and many of you are going through it for the first time. I wish I could make all humans more aware. I wish the existence of one species didn’t have to end so often in the death of the other. I wish your life had been longer and more valued.
The natural world will never get these notes. I write them regardless. Individual animals and collective resources teach me. Gratitude, compassion, industriousness, uncertainty, joy, determination, and sorrow are the lessons I learn. When I write nature notes, I become more – more thankful, compassionate, and caring. I become more accepting, less rigid, and happier.
Breathe, look, feel, be – the season and the natural world give gifts in excess. Accept them and then give something back.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.
Sarah Hatfield is Education Coordinator at Audubon Community Nature Center. This article originally ran in October 2016.