Nature's Sure Signs
by: Mike Lushington  

            It was another in a series of startlingly beautiful autumn days. For much of the past two weeks, the weather has finally decided to act like we think it should and I have been luxuriating in what is often my favourite time of the year.

            We came close to frost again last night, but, once again, we escaped, courtesy of the big heat sink that is the river. It keeps frost away from our gardens here, sometimes for weeks after we might have expected it on the old farm in Balmoral. This morning the dew was heavy on the grass as Sasha and I set out on our daily inspection of the property. The jays were calling in the hedgerows, responding to the crows that I could hear in the big aspens further back along the trail. I could hear robins, present again after an absence of several weeks. Actually I suspect that these are visitors from further north, passing though and stopping to take advantage of a good crop of Mountain ash berries and wild cherries. Warblers and sparrows were moving through the hedgerows, cleaning insects that were just beginning to stir in the increasing warmth of the morning sun, while nuthatches sang love songs to one another. These charming little creatures are seemingly well into another round of nesting, despite the lateness of the season, and I could detect their presence all up and down along the paths by their singular nasal vocalizations.

            Mushrooms were everywhere. September is the time for them and where this summer has been so wet, many species have found optimum growing conditions. I have been harvesting them for several weeks now - those that I know to be safe - and drying them for use in soups, stews, and stir-fries this winter. Earlier it had been Chanterelles, but now I am finding botetes, principally Goldstalks, but some King Ceps as well. I always know to look for mushrooms when the air is heavy with the scent of the earth in fall, so different from that of spring, with its overburden of maturity, decay, and death. For all that the scent reminds me of the end of the season, it is rich and full this morning. lingering under the canopy of leaves that still shade my paths.

            I pass a clump of fall asters and see a huge old bumblebee stirring itself from beneath a blossom scarcely largely than it is. After a moment it lumbers into the air, off for at least one more day or nectar gathering before it finds shelter for the winter or succumbs to more cold than it can tolerate. Because it has been wet and calm this last while, the leaves are still clinging to the trees, although many of them have begun to change into the brilliance of their funeral shrouds. I figure that this coming weekend will produce the grand fall light and colour show for this year. Already the maples and many of the wild cherries are ready, while the birches and the hedgerow shrubs have still to make their commitment to the grand performance that preludes the turn into late fall and the coming of winter.

            The changing of the season is well upon us, I realize, as I stop to look out over the river once again. It is still spectacular, but the light is older, harder, more clearly defined. There is no mistaking the view this morning for some soft place of long summers and gentle winters. For all of its beauty, its promise is implicit: things are about to chance, to die, to rest. I remind myself that it is all in the order of things as they unfold here in Winter Country. Even as I take in the joys of the morning, I remember that it is time to take the warning and get on with those things that need attention; the reminder is in the hills, and on the water, and in the very air.


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