Reckling: The sights and sounds of change
It begins with a faded leaf tip along a frequented byway, all of a sudden the sun feels gentler and the daylight hours, and chores within them, come up short. On my early morning walk along the timbered ridge, gold leaves tumble like coins making the earthen floor a gleaming treasure, while along the trail clusters of fresh bear scat steam in the chilly air. Branches hang heavy, laden with chokecherries and serviceberries and the orchard air has sweetened with its deeply colored fruits. As I listen carefully, the constant thud of dropping apples signals the arrival of fall.
Yellow-leafed willows glow like lanterns along the river bottom while the colder air seeps in with the stealth of a mountain lion. The stroke of my hand along the horse’s neck sinks into his newly thickened winter hair and the mountain windsong carries elk bugles, hawk screams and the rustle of leaves. At the edge of a flaxen field, golden cottonwoods reflect their images onto shallow ponds as the beekeeper collects his boxes, one-by-one.
How anyone was ever able to prescribe four seasons to the high country, I’ll never know. There are hundreds, thousands of moments throughout the year that speak of change. The perplexing dilemma is once you take notice, the transition increases into an avalanche of observations. Each morning, after noticing that faded leaf tip, the gambel oaks have a suspiciously lighter tint; the blue spruce and its fellow pines sport heavy crowns of cones and entire mountainsides take on a subtle golden tone.
Like the hatch of insects on the river that unfolds before the fly-fisherman’s eyes, the unveiling of autumnal glory is a gradual turn of events that culminates in a mind-blowing display of color. Like a clandestine operation, it evolves during the cooler nights until one morning you awaken to the mountains screaming with ocher, vermilion and gold.
Nothing bespeaks the seasonal shift more than the do-se-do of decision-making involved in cutting hay, for when pastures stand tall with thick grass that blows in the breeze like the waves of an ocean, the whisper of winter can be heard in every livestock owner’s ear.
Heavy farm machinery begins to appear on the roads between ranches and it’s all-hands-on-deck for ranch managers and their hired hands. They scramble from dawn to dusk to cut, rake and bale hay dodging rainstorms whenever possible. Once the hay is cut, black ravens descend to search for sustenance in the shaven grass and coyotes gather between the windrows to feast on exposed, errant mice.
As the days shorten, the crackle of airborne grasshoppers becomes more random and the variety of butterflies and their lovely dances diminish. Cows with their calves string out in crooked order on the pale pastures, following fence lines in search of greener grass and better feed. The neighborly conversations along the roadside turn to winter preparedness, predictions on snowfall and the well-being of a few of the more elderly residents.
Nature’s weariness and struggle are almost palpable, for I too am in the autumn of my life here on earth. The sense that I am well into my journey makes me treasure moments like never before and the list of my personal “un-dones” is reviewed more and more frequently. Each sunrise is cherished like the smile from a friend and gratefulness for my life radiates from deep within.
My father, forever my ally, had a saying about his own life as he aged, “Half-time is over,” he would lament. Being the avid basketball player I was and participant in many sports, his reference to “half-time” always made an impact on me. To me, halftime is the last opportunity to regroup, reenergize and change the rhythm of the game, especially if signs indicate you are headed in the wrong direction. It’s a final assessment of the situation and indication that the game will end sooner, not later.
Amongst Native American Indians, there are many beautiful expressions about mortality. Perhaps none are simpler than this: “Man walks upon the earth for only a few winters.” There is a grave reminder that accompanies the jewel-colored palette of fall, the scent of air, laced with wood smoke and the joyous bounty of the harvest. Mother Earth shall reclaim all that is hers, when she chooses, including each of us.
With woodpiles stacked high against the October sky, the chill wind and the lesser light will lead us into the season of quilted, snowy silence. Yes, even the brightest wildflowers fade and a look across the valley to the foothills of sagebrush, silver in the sinking sun, gives me cause to wrap my woolen poncho a little tighter, as I prepare for the long, dark nights of winter.
Margaret Reckling lives in Woody Creek and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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