The Trees Let Go

The Trees Let Go
This morning, I stood with my face to the sun, watching the autumn leaves sift down, and listening to the last of the acorns drop. (What a banner mast year this was in Williamsburg — an acorn extravaganza!)

Those trees, they know when the time is right to let go. To launch the fruits of their annual labor into the world and then rest for a season, gathering their energy for new growth and creation in the spring.

Wishing you a beautiful fall, with ample time for wrapping up, drawing in, reflecting on, and cozying up!

Autumnal Equinox

The long wait is over — autumn is officially here!  The new season swept into town in a shower of raindrops under cover of soft gray skies.  The trees have yet to flash autumn a warm greeting of color, but the mushrooms?  Oh, the mushrooms!  They are welcoming autumn with all their might, much to the delight of the deer, who have been eagerly dining on the delicate morsels springing up throughout the yard and woods.

So many beautiful forms!  Rounded and smooth, ruffled with fringe, embossed with dots.  Buttons, cones, discs.  Red, yellow, and tan against the bright green moss.  And, of course, stark white against the fallen leaves, black with rain.  Perfect on this day of balanced light and darkness.

Each year on the equinox, I return to a beloved poem by Lisel Mueller.  By now it is an integral part of my life’s yearly cycle.  Favorite excerpts are below.  Happy Fall, everyone!

One More Hymn to the Sun

You know that like an ideal mother
she will never leave you,
though after a week of rain
you begin to worry

but you accept her brief absences,
her occasional closed doors
as the prerogative
of an eccentric lover  . . .

You like the fact that her moods are an orderly version of yours,
arranged, like the needs of animals,
by seasons: her spring quirks,
her sexual summers,
her steadfast warmth in the fall;
you remember her face on Christmas Day,
blurred, and suffused with the weak smile
of a woman who has just given birth

The way she loves you, your whole body,
and still leaves enough space between you
to keep you from turning to cinders
before your time!  . . .

She never gave up on you
though it took you billions of years
to learn the alphabet
and the shadow you cast on the ground
changed its shape again and again

- Lisel Mueller, The Missouri Review, 2.1, Fall 1978

November’s Moon

Here we are once more: the full moon!  In North America, the most common name for November’s moon is the Beaver Moon, in part because, for fur-trappers, November is an excellent time to lay traps for that animal, and in part because beavers are busy building winter dams this month.  (For those of you wondering: we’ve not seen our backyard beaver since our last encounter — the tree remains downed, and sadly unused.)

The last few days have reminded us why we call the fall The Fall: from above, a steady downward flutter of leaves, drifting, blanketing the lawn.  The locals agree: the autumn colors have been unusually beautiful this year — and autumn itself has been wondrously long.  Many bright, warm days.  Perfect for walking, and soaking up the sun’s rays.

As Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air. Well, in my case, perhaps not all the daylight hours.  But at least an hour a day, Matt, the baby, and I are out in the autumn glow!

The weeks are flying by.  One month until the first day of winter, the winter solstice — which also happens to be December’s full moon.  A fun coincidence!  And just over a month until this baby arrives.  He or she is growing well — healthy and strong!  Big kicks this month, and lots of hiccups.  Above: a quick photo snapped late this afternoon (staring into the sun — explains the squint!).  The belly is big, and I love it!   All is well.

Happy autumn to you all!

They’re Baaa-aack! (Flying Squirrels, That Is.)

Ah, November.  The beginning of flying squirrel season!  Around mid-month, from the poorly-sealed attic above, we hear the first scurryings and squeakings that signal the news that our flying squirrel colony is back and setting up residence.

Last year, our landlord’s handyman misidentified the squirrels as “attic chipmunks” and tried unsuccessfully for two months to evict them.  That is, until January, when he whipped out the rat poison and Matt and I intervened — and soon realized that we had flying squirrels, not chipmunks, on our hands.

From January through March, we set the live traps whenever we heard telltale scuffles in the attic.  We trapped out over seven squirrels, driving them to new forest homes across the river — usually between 2:00 and 5:00 AM, right when they’d enter the traps, because we learned the hard way that a squirrel left to his own devices could MacGyver his way out in less than 30 minutes.

This morning, we caught our first flying squirrel of the fall season.

Those eyes!  Those little paws!  Man, are flying squirrels cute.  So cute, in fact, that — for now, anyway — we don’t mind the 5:30 AM car trip across the Chickahominy River.

In fact, we were happy to be up so early this morning, because from the bridge, we got a fantastic view of Venus, the morning star, at sunrise!

Walking in Season: November 2010

Wow, what a month October was: a parade of family members in town throughout the month; the baby shower; and, in the last week, the excitement of life without indoor plumbing!

A week ago, the main water line to our house sprung big leaks, and the repairs — for various logistical and bureaucratic reasons — could not be completed until today.  From last Tuesday until just an hour ago, the water line was shut down, and we had no running water in the house.

If we had to be visited by such an adventure, this last week was an ideal time for it.  Two sets of friends/family were out-of-town, and their empty homes were open to us for showers, cooking, laundry, and the filling of large tubs of water to haul back to our house for toilet-flushing the low-tech way.  To these kind folks, we say: THANK YOU!

But now it is November!   This month, everywhere around us, the natural world begins to slow and settle in for the long winter ahead.  The trees drop their leaves… the nights lengthen… the days become cool and crisp… the plants offer up the last of their fruits… the animals stock up and hunker down — including many of us humans!

This month is a wonderful time to follow Mother Nature’s lead:  simplifying, drawing in, shifting our focus from outward to inward.  After the bustle of summer, we partake of this season’s quieter pastimes.  As we warm ourselves by the fire, or stand stirring at the stove, or sit stitching in the lamplight, our minds find space and opportunity for introspection and reflection.

And, hopefully, around the fourth Thursday of the month (for us Americans, anyway), we also find opportunity to be thankful for all the good that our lives hold!

Less than two months to go before the little one makes his or her debut — we can hardly believe it!  Today, we had a raft of errands and a faraway prenatal appointment, so we admit: November’s Walking in Seasons photos were taken October 31st, to ensure they got taken at all.  Blue skies reigned both days, however, so we’re confident that yesterday’s shots are near-perfect representations of November 1′s path.

Complete set of Walking in Season photos here, all by Matt.

Stop 1.  The leaning tree trunk in the center of the photo finally fell!

Stop 1.5. Sing along, everybody: “Muuuuuuuck on the wa-ter, and glare in the sky-yy.”

Stop 2.  It’s strange but true: I like the wetland much better without green leaves.

Stop 3.  Leaf by leaf, the canopy falls.

Stop 4.  This stop is the most-transformed each month, I think — even the changes in the last three months alone are impressive!

The Heart of Autumn

The heart of autumn must have broken here,
and poured its treasure out upon the leaves.
- Charlotte Fiske Bates (1838 – 1916)

Basking in Autumn

Last Sunday, we went for a walk with our families along our favorite trail.  The day was sunny and warm, and in the wetland, the turtles were out basking, soaking up the sun’s rays before a long winter underground.

Turtles cannot make their own body heat, so they sunbathe to raise their body temperature.  The warmth allows them to better digest their food, rid themselves of parasites, and (for females) develop their eggs.  And, it turns out, like us, turtles need ample sunshine to manufacture Vitamin D for healthy bones!

The large turtle in the middle, who held out its hind leg in a reptilian arabesque, was particularly charming.

Sunbathing turtles seem to be on the minds of folks across the country at present.  Case in point: this post over at Learn.  Make.  Think. — a great blog worth checking out!

Indian Corn, Rainy Day

In our neck of the woods: lots of family in town (my mom, Matt’s mom, and tonight, my sister!), lots of bustling about, and lots of excitement, too!  The Moms have been busily preparing for the baby shower on Saturday, shopping and planning and conducting secret closed-door meetings about all the details.  Oh, the suspense!

Yesterday,  fall decorations were procured to welcome shower guests:  bunches of Indian corn to flank the front door, and a passel of pumpkins to post at the front steps.  (Heads up, Williamsburg readers: Fresh Market‘s got large pumpkins at 3 for $10, and jumbo ones for 2 for $10 — a good deal!)

It’s been a rainy day here, lending a nice autumn chill to the air and a soft light to cozy the house.  Hope you’re having a cozy day, too!

Smoke of Autumn

Yesterday, we took a Sunday afternoon drive to a very special place.  As the Virginia countryside rolled by, time and again, we saw that classic scene of rural life in autumn: piles of leaves, raked, and set aflame, sending plumes of grey smoke skyward.  And I remembered this:

Three Pieces on the Smoke of Autumn

Smoke of autumn is on it all.
The streamers loosen and travel.
The red west is stopped with a gray haze.
They fill the ash trees, they wrap the oaks,
They make a long-tailed rider
In the pocket of the first, the earliest evening star.
. . .

Three muskrats swim west on the Desplaines River.

There is a sheet of red ember glow on the river; it is dusk; and the muskrats one by one go on patrol routes west.

Around each slippery padding rat, a fan of ripples; in the silence of dusk a faint wash of ripples, the padding of the rats going west, in a dark and shivering river gold.

(A newspaper in my pocket says the Germans pierce the Italian line; I have letters from poets and sculptors in Greenwich Village; I have letters from an ambulance man in France and an I. W. W. man in Vladivostok.)

I lean on an ash and watch the lights fall, the red ember glow, and three muskrats swim west in a fan of ripples on a sheet of river gold.
. . .

Better the blue silence and the gray west,
The autumn mist on the river,
And not any hate and not any love,
And not anything at all of the keen and the deep:
Only the peace of a dog head on a barn floor,
And the new corn shoveled in bushels
And the pumpkins brought from the corn rows,
Umber lights of the dark,
Umber lanterns of the loam dark.

Here a dog head dreams.
Not any hate, not any love.
Not anything but dreams.
Brother of dusk and umber.

- Carl Sandburg, from Cornhuskers (1918)

Traveling Through the Season

Last week, we trekked to upstate New York to take care of some PhD-related business (a special committee meeting for me) and to visit with old friends.

Traveling the route between Virginia and New York in September is seasonal time travel of sorts.  The journey north is a fast-forward to autumn in full swing, and the journey south is a rewind to early fall.  In Williamsburg, the air is still heavy and warm, and the fall color is just beginning to emerge from within the vast green canopy.  In Ithaca, sweater-weather has arrived, and the hills are a mosaic of red and green, yellow and brown, and a whole spectrum of oranges (my favorite).

We had a really wonderful trip.  My meeting went very well (more on that later, perhaps).  We did lots of catching up with old friends, lots of playing with and baby-sitting of the adorable offspring of said friends, and lots of stomping around our old stomping grounds (more on that later, too).

And, just as my third trimester began, we fit in a 4.5+ mile hike through Robert H. Treman State Park, up the Gorge Trail to Lucifer Falls and down the Rim Trail to the Lower Falls.  Funnily, our best photos from the hike involve neither of the big falls nor much fall color.  So, I offer this shot by Matt: a little falls into a deep pool, along the Gorge Trail.  Quiet and lovely.  A beautiful place to begin the final three months — the last season — of this pregnancy!


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