Reckling: The glory of autumn
With the freshening wind and early nightfall, the mountain dons her golden gown and the fiery eruption of autumnal glory blazes from the treetops and sweeps down into the river bottom. Rosy hues evolve from purple-tinted mornings, pearlescent with the first frosts, and brindled leaves reveal their fragility, as they’ve been baked brittle by summer’s long sun.
Across the freshly cut hayfields, hawks and ravens compete for newly vulnerable mice, and the coyotes sneak down through the pale aspens, cautiously making their way to take part in the feast. Even the shy bobcat emerges to patrol the farthest windrows for tasty rodents but doesn’t stay long as it disappears into the emerald pines.
Gathering swallows twitter across the fading sky, and the mellow scent of decay laces the air. Bucked bales fill the hay barns to their maximum capacity, and the irrigation shovels shall soon be stowed away in the storage shed. Tarps will be collected from all the ditches and put away until spring. The large swather, rake and baler, so industrious these past few weeks, are now retired until next year’s harvest.
The orchard air is thick with the sweet essence of apples and plums. Each evening, after the distant sun drops behind the coral-hued horizon, the fruitful aroma lures calorie-loading black bears for nightly raids on the century-old trees. The gentle thumping of fallen apples is part of the seasonal serenade, and mornings are filled with the cacophony of squawking magpies picking over what the marauding bruins have left behind.
Even the horses linger a bit longer in the sunlight to soak up those last moments of fading warmth. The twitching of their tails will ease as the summer insects die out with the lower temperatures. The slick sheen of their necks, backs and flanks will soon dull with thick winter growth, while the green pastures they’ve grazed inevitably fade to yellow.
In the past few days, conversations have turned to firewood collection, propane tanks and heating fuel. The colder air has crept into the canyon with the stealth of a mountain lion. Woodpiles will continue to stack higher, cord upon cord, under the bite of the chain saw and severance of the ax, always with the question, “Will it be enough?”
The river has slowed, and whispers of winter trickle between the exposed, lichen-covered rocks. Early-evening cyclones of caddis, beige and fluttery, lift from the creek and swirl gracefully above the water. A golden lagoon has formed where the beavers have done their night work among thickets of bronze-colored willows. Nearby, a plump muskrat works madly at the tall cattails that grow in the muck below the pond, and it drags them away to its home tucked beneath the creek bank.
The blue heron launches from the edge of the still water, and with the laborious beat of its immense gray wings, it sails home to the expansive rookery that is colonized atop the tall cottonwoods of lower Woody Creek. Tomorrow, it will return to the beaver pond to fish again with its spearlike beak that pierces the silvery spines of its aquatic prey. The heron will fling its head back, tossing diamond droplets of water high into the ribbons of afternoon light, as it swallows the fish whole.
On the way down from the upper mesa, the beekeeper gifts me one last jar of pale honey, a topaz jewel to be treasured all winter long. Come the dark days of deep snow, a dollop on the tongue will be a remembrance of lush clover, colorful blossoms and the harmonious buzz of bees on hot summer days. Yes, it will be a challenge to envision the brilliant green grass, fluttering butterflies and crackling grasshoppers during winter’s interminable siege — but this amber sweetness will help.
It’s hard to imagine that this brilliant tapestry of color, that deciduous musk of fall and the fragrance of ripened fruits will all vanish beneath feet-deep blankets of white snow.
Nature has a magnificent way of signaling change. With each approaching season, I swear to myself that this is the most beautiful one of all — that is until the next one arrives. The coming days of gray will be a different journey — for they bear true witness to the dying year.
Here, high in the Rockies, the seasons evolve rapidly and are bold in their presence. There may be no other place I’ve been that exemplifies seasonal characteristics and the magnificence of the natural world as powerfully as the little valley I live in.
Margaret Reckling lives in Woody Creek and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Like the trails we hike and ride upon, our forest journeys can be capricious, going down an intriguing path, unintended in the beginning, but bringing a sweet, or bitter, experience before we’re through.