The latter half of fall


As October ends and November begins, we’ve entered a portion of our annual circular journey that’s decidedly transitional.

By the calendar and almanac, it’s still nominally autumn. And for the next seven weeks—until the solstice on Dec. 21, the point when the seasonal changeover switch gets flipped and we progress into official winter—it will remain ostensibly autumn.

But regardless of whatever terminology we choose for defining the period just ahead, autumn’s latter half is nothing like the first. Not in weather, not in appearance…and not in available outdoor opportunities.

Autumn’s latter half is different—and we need to revise our outlook and expectations.

I’m not trying to be a messenger of bad news, but those mild, almost balmy days in the upper-70s, with sunshine and bright blue skies, are probably over. November can be pretty cool and cloudy. So you probably need to put the flip-flops and tropical-print shorts in storage.

Sure, we’ll still have days that will be warm and sunny. Plus there’s always the anticipated reprise of Indian summer yet to come—though its annual certainty is not a sure thing.

But the latter part of November can also turn gray and sullen, blowing up an arctic wind that cuts like a razor while spitting sleet and snow in your eyes and down an open shirt collar. Or this nasty turn can happen during November’s initial days. It’s anyone’s guess how those first three weeks of December will unfold!

Of course, the whole scenario might progress in reverse—cold early on, nice weather later. Transitions are nothing if not notoriously fickle.

I don’t have the period’s 2022 game plan. You might consult a few woolly worms or examine the hearts of persimmon seeds if you put stock in such oracles.

While most folks will tell you they like seasonal change, the truth is you just never know about autumn’s latter half. History is just, well, history—not a forecast.

I suspect it’s this uncertainty that accounts for most of the period’s lack of appreciation and oft-heard grumbles. To echo the old Rodney Dangerfield catchphrase, these weeks “don’t get no respect.”

A shame, really, because “doorway” periods are a sort of grace note interim between true seasons—transitions bridging a disconnect gap.

I like to think of these latter autumnal weeks as practically a season unto itself—messy, unpredictable, sometimes a bit startling or uncomfortable, but also regularly astonishingly beautiful.

There’s a clutter to the landscape. Even the neatest of backyards suddenly look ragged, unkept, and in desperate need of a good raking.

The forest floor sports a shiny new coppery-brown carpet, courtesy of a gazillion fallen leaves. More come fluttering down each and every day, urged earthward by any errant gust.

These newly-downed leaves are still crunchy underfoot. A scurrying chipmunk sounds like a charging bear! Sneaking along a trail is pretty much impossible. I sometimes go shuffling for a few yards on a particularly fluffy path, just for the childish delight of making so much racket.

But while many leaves are down, not all have fallen. Some, in fact, haven’t even turned. Woods and brushy borders sport both skeletal branches and green foliage—kinda looking as if they’d got caught halfway through the act of undressing.

A gust of wind can set a bushel or two of dry, already-fallen leaves to swirling, while at the same time stripping several more bushels from surrounding trees. Suddenly the air is filled with nature’s confetti. A woodland celebration!

But it’s not just all leaves and landscape. Various creatures are also reacting to the changing times.

There are now a half-dozen vociferous crows stopping by our cottage every morning. Theirs is an apparent crack-of-dawn mission to make sure no one is attempting to sleep in. My wife, who gets up an hour later than me, is not a fan. I have no idea what prompts such obnoxious behavior in this gang of feathered hoodlums, but it happens every year at about the same time. If past years are any indicator, they will continue their early visits for maybe another month before abruptly relocating elsewhere, presumably to annoy some other unfortunate neighbor.

Squirrels are busy and energetic—zany, bushy-tailed crazies. They scamper and scurry, chase and chatter. Not even the feeder blue jays are safe from their zooming shenanigans.

Except for the exasperating and unavoidable fact of constantly having your lure fouled by snagging underwater leaves washing downstream, this is a dandy time to ply the local creeks and rivers for smallmouth bass. My favorite bronzeback fishing season, in fact.

Maybe it’s my Celtic blood, but I’ve always been inordinately fond of these latter autumn weeks. I actually like the gloomy days, and nights when rain pelts the windows while wind moans around the eaves like a lost banshee. I sometimes build a fire in the yard’s outdoor pit and, like a happily brooding Druid, hunker over the sputtering blaze.

Pathways beckon. Woodlands call. Streams summon. For the inveterate outdoor rambler, it’s a prime time to explore and savor.

But also like so many things in life, one whose appreciation is due to context and mindset.

We have to be ready and willing to enjoy autumn’s latter half.

Reach the writer at [email protected]

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