Sure enough October!


By James McGuire

Contributing columnist

Autumn is making its way along the river—its forthcoming evident in countless signs and portents.

While this seasonal change may still seem slow and subtle, it is also manifestly steady—its metamorphosis clear when measured over a few days.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed.

Ruby-throat hummingbirds recently disappeared from the dooryard. Since spring, the diminutive feathered jewels have been sipping nectar from nearby flowers and my hanging feeders—all the while delighting me with their feisty presence.

Moreover, our daytime temps had remained unseasonably warm. Flowers were still blooming plus I’d kept plenty of sugar-water on tap.

But the hummers weren’t fooled or persuaded to linger. Weather is often a poor indicator of our standing on the year’s eternal circle. They’d read the signs and bailed to milder climes. Such savvy is necessary for the tiny birds whose relative daily caloric needs are considerable— literally a matter of life and death.

By contrast, the turtle army inhabiting the cottage pool and its environs still appears every sunny day, comfortably baking atop their favorite rocks at the bottom of the riffle. There are at least a dozen, often more, and a mix of species. Their size ranges from a coffee cup diameter snapper to a grandaddy soft-shell bigger than a dinner plate.

Of course, unlike the nectar-loving hummers, when autumnal weather gets too cold to suit a turtle, they simply migrate to a patch of mud or muck to spend the winter snugly ensconced in somnolent bliss.

Autumn is taking its time. Visibly, there’s not much color yet in my immediate bailiwick.

Most of the leaves along the Stillwater’s corridor are still resolutely green—though the majority of those on the many black walnut trees hereabouts are a lively yellow and already thinning.

The husks on the walnut’s round lime-green fruits—the tree’s namesake and decidedly tasty treasures—are also starting to go yellowish. Any breeze stirring through the sparse leaves sends a fusillade of nuts dropping like miniature cannonballs.

They rattle as they fall and thump loudly on the ground. Outdoorsy folks recognize these sounds as fair warning to go on immediate high alert.

Walnuts pose a twofold danger!

First, a falling walnut is essentially a weighty greenish missile. A painful threat to the noggin’ of anyone directly bombed. You dawdle under nut-laden trees at your own peril.

But there’s more—and worse!

Once a walnut is on the ground, they regularly roll into hiding by slyly lurking under a bit of underfoot leaf cover. Camouflaged spheres that are now perfect ankle-turning, fanny-busting traps for the unwary.

Yup, I’ve learned both these lessons the hard way.

Still, while leaves on the walnut trees are at the forefront of the color charge, the only real eye-catching support comes from scarlet twirls of Virginia creeper.

Also called woodbine, the plant’s leafy vines spiral up the splotchy whitewashed trunks of numerous towering sycamores lining the riverbank. Even when the all-out technicolor peak of the leaf-peeping season arrives, there’s not a tree in the forest that can exceed the breathtaking fire of Virginia creeper’s pentad sets of luminescent red-orange leaves.

Frankly, few can even come close to matching its blazing hue—especially when a shaft of sunlight sets it to gleaming incandescently. Backlit whirls of Virginia creeper’s dazzling red leaves glow like stained-glass windows in a dimly-lit cathedral.

Yes, those on a sumac or swamp maple may be a bit more scarlet. But for me, the incandescent fires of bucolic woodbine are October’s show-stopper—unbeatable in the “who’s got the best red?” game.

Still, Virginia creeper aside, the remainder of the leaves on the trees along the river are either fully green or a mix of faded green interspersed with daubs of anemic yellow. Additionally, there are a fair number of trees whose leaves have skipped the color-change business entirely and gone straight to tan or brown. Sometimes this in the whole leaf, but more often it’s merely a portion—a tip edge, perhaps—that’s gone rusty.

What I judge our local color peak annually arrives sometime after the 22nd of the month. So we’re still days away from that moment and the colorful patchwork blizzard that will subsequently cover the ground and get into the waterways.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t leaves already washing down in the streams. And I recently spent a pleasant hour just sitting on the riverbank, watching the sparser beginnings of that new leaf flotilla bob and spin along on the mirrored current.

The cloudless sky was simply magnificent. But for a while, I couldn’t decide on its color: was it azure or cobalt, cerulean or indigo, or lapis lazuli?

In the end, after dithering, I realized naming it not only didn’t matter but actually limited what I found so wondrous—that being a gift typical of these autumnal days when stunning skies are regular extravaganzas.

October’s skies—dawns and sunsets, as well as awesome midday blues—seem planned, as if nature wants to counterpoint and possibly outdo the dazzling leaves.

I love watching this contest. Just as I love watching how little by little, bit by bit, October’s natural magic is transforming and altering our patch of the world—both its landscape and inhabitants.

Some years ago, in mid-October, a friend and were standing on a high, cliffy overlook in the southeastern hill country, sharing a jaw-dropping view.

The woods below were a breathtaking undulation of autumn’s finest hues. In the west, the sinking sun wrapped the horizons in a glowing band from yellow to orange to red. Overhead, an Atlantic blue sky was streaked with turquoise.

“It’s just one big high-colored hullabaloo!” he remarked.

“Yup,” I replied “That sure enough describes October!”

Reach the writer at [email protected]

No posts to display