Winding up the pea strings in the garden, my mind wanders. I hear the juvenile Song Sparrow trying to sing. I listen to soft patter as the first dried leaves fall through the branches of the Sugar Maple. I watch a variety of grass seed heads sway in the breeze. Oh, September.
Autumn is a time of balance. That occurs in these quiet moments of tidying up the garden and in the frantic canning of pears when they all reach peak ripeness at once. It is a time of serene porch-sitting with hot tea and daily picking of raspberries before they mold. The nights get dark earlier, the chickens go to roost sooner and the evenings are more leisurely, but as long as the sun is shining we are harvesting, preserving, wrapping up projects, and preparing for winter at a constant, at times relentless, pace. I love it.
I know what is coming. And many of the animals do, too, but some may not. This year’s fawns may wonder why mom keeps walking them under certain trees and pausing… they don’t know about apples. The young Song Sparrow learning to sing hasn’t been drawn south yet, but rather knows that equal light and dark means it is time to sing! Among them I wander, digging potatoes, checking pumpkins, harvesting tomatoes, and feeling the pull of the earth to slow, savor.
In the last week or so, the eager trees have started to display their color. The landscape is about the get riotous with its outfits, sporting every shade of every color. The rich orange and black Monarch butterflies will soar in a constant stream over fields of amber grasses, golden flowers, red-fringed dewberry leaves, and royal purple asters. The last of the dusty blueberries hang on the branches, complemented by the blue-purple depth of the Concord grapes as they ripen. The aspens peak yellow as the maples glow orange and the Sassafras fire up with a rainbow of reds, scarlet, crimson, and fuchsia.
With the onset of this seasonal show, I start to anticipate the flock (yes, flock) of dragonflies that come over the hill on their migration every year. I listen for the geese heading south, and await the sounds of the swans to follow. I watch the Turkey Vultures soar steadily southeast, following the thermals and winds that wind along the ridgeline. The raccoons arrive to test the electric fence around the produce, the grasshoppers start to diminish in number, praying mantids are fat and slow, depositing their eggs then feeding the soil themselves. Crickets sing farewell to summer, slowing their songs, chirps, and whirrs to lullaby state.
The natural cycles and rhythms of the world are both ever-changing and constant. The cycles shift, as we all know, and seasons are hotter or colder, wetter or drier. Regardless of everything, this is true. Animals are born, animals reproduce if they make it to adulthood, others become sustenance when young. The end result of life is death, and that’s also true. I know my reaction to the seasons well, I know that I gain energy and momentum as the days get longer, packing more and more into each day. I also know that mid-summer, I start to get tired from moving at such a pace and look forward to these days — the cooler, crisp ones that allow for both work with my hands in the dirt, and an early turn-in time to recharge my body, mind, and heart.
September is a favorite month. It slows me down, allows me to breathe, think, and work at a saner pace. At the same time, now, it makes me a little sad. It’s been a couple years since my dad died, changing the month forever, and adding a somber note to my autumn. Upon reflection, it was the perfect month to die. The world is naturally starting to pull in on itself, slow, and the thriving lives of summer are coming to an end.
Dad was a nature nerd, loved the outdoors, even as he lived a life far removed from its rhythms. It is fitting that September claimed him, wrapped him into the recycling of life and the restful months ahead. And as I think about this season being one of balance, my sadness is in perfect sync with my happiness. As I think about all the reasons that fall warms my heart — the equal light and dark, the changes in color, harvests aplenty, apples, cooler nights — it is now better balanced as dad’s absence is twined among them. Perhaps this is a bit strange to say (and I would certainly love to have him still be alive), but my father’s death made me a better person, more whole, more at peace. It made me more aware of the cycles, those inevitable journeys that we all take around the sun, and live more purposely in tune with them. Oh, September.
I wish for you to all find a balance, especially given the current state of the world. I hope you can find the time to watch the moon rise, eat a ripe apple straight off a tree, sit as the Monarchs pass by you with purpose, and listen to the leaves loosening their grip on their world. I hope you spend time with those dear to you, living and not. I hope September finds you.
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 ACNC.