…to the air of October 11 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 a while, 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 palm for an instant.

Four-toed Salamander. Photo by Jeff Tome.

Four-toed Salamander. Photo by Jeff Tome.

…to the Four-toed Salamander I found while gardening.

Accept my forgiveness. In the haste of trying to put the garden to bed, I failed to remember that this garden is so much more to you – shelter, respite, or holy road. You curled, instinctively protecting yourself, your bright white and black-speckled belly gave you away. 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 a perennial bed, placed you on the damp earth, and watched you disappear, likely never to be seen by me again, into the humus of the rhubarb patch.

…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 leaves falling on Route 6.

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, only to be swept up by the next passing car and flung into the air again. 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.

Frosty sweet gum leaf. Photo by Katie Finch.

Frosty sweet gum leaf. Photo by Katie Finch.

…to the four orphaned turkey poults.

I am glad to see you in the fields. You have done well these last months without a hen, remembering what she taught you as chicks and learning a bit more along the way. I don’t know what happened to her, or what you know. But I know better what is coming as the nights get colder than you do. I’m pleased that you have found some other turkeys to hang out with, though I wonder what will become of you, lone jenny, in a group of toms and jakes. Unintentionally, perhaps unwanted, you are a symbol of the season. I much prefer to see you chasing grasshoppers in the pasture than envision you on my plate come next month. I will look for you often as winter approaches.

…to the young opossum, raccoon, and skunk all killed on the road Sunday 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 slow down and 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 nonetheless. Individual animals and collective resources teach me. Gratitude, compassion, industriousness, uncertainty, joy, determination, and sorrow are lessons I learn. When I write nature notes, I become 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. The trails at Audubon are open from dawn to dusk. The Nature Center is open daily from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. except Sundays when they open at 1 p.m. The Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. They are located at 1600 Riverside Road, just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown.

Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon Community Nature Center.