Late-October always has the capacity to toll me away from such trivial matters as pending work and scheduled appointments. And I’ll be the first to admit I’m unabashedly easy when it comes to shirking these duties.
All it takes is a certain slant of sunlight through the stained-glass canopy of brilliant autumn leaves, or the rich winey smell of wind across a tawny field. As some wag once said, I can resist anything but temptation.
My wife claims such behavior reveals a blatant attitude of irresponsibility. I counter I’m merely realigning priorities. While we’re obviously at philosophical loggerheads, she knows a hopeless case when she’s married to one and forbearingly overlooks my shortcomings.
October recently beckoned. I was standing in the side yard near the woodpile when I heard its call. Though I’d planned on cutting and splitting firewood, I instead heeded the summons—put chainsaw and axe away, and obediently hit the road.
My destination was a favorite chunk of public land an hour distant. There’s a loop trail I like because it snakes through a variety of landscapes—upland pine thickets, lowland bottoms, mature woodlands, prairie-like meadows, creekside floodplains. Though I hadn’t been there in well over a year, it seemed the perfect choice for an autumn-savoring visit.
Weeds glistened with dew as I locked the SUV, slung a small canvas bag carrying water, snacks, and a few necessities over my shoulder, grabbed a walking stick, and began picking my way along the narrow footpath leading to the creek a half-mile distant.
The moist morning air was still quite chilly after a mid-thirties night. But the sun was bright and climbing, and there wasn’t a cloud in the deep-blue sky.
What makes the light of October so spectacular? After all, it’s produced by the same sun, which lights the other months and seasons. Yet there’s a noticeable difference—a distinctive and extraordinary quality which fills the eye and illuminates the heart. Natural magic, as dramatic as it is inexplicable.
A few hundred yards from the parking area I startled a breakfasting groundhog—an individual so fat he wiggled like a lizard as he speed-waddled through the high grass. A few minutes later, as I neared the creek, a trio of whitetails bounded across the trail—two does first, followed by what looked to be—in my brief glimpse—a really nice buck.
Upon reaching the little stream I mildly regretted not bringing my ultralight fishing tackle. The jade water was full and sparkling, filled with piscatorial promise. This can be a dandy smallmouth creek when it’s cookin’, and I knew at first glance the pellucid flow exhibited all the earmarks of this being one of those memory-making days!
But no real lamenting—no second-guessing my choice to amble about, exploring the season rather than focusing on stalking stream bronzebacks. There would be other days yet ahead for fishing.
I hopped across the creek on stepping stones and almost made the other bank dry-shod. A hilltop thicket of gaudy maples caught my eye. I followed a side path and eventually worked my way into their midst.
A dazzling layer of yellow, orange and red leaves carpeted the ground. A radiant canopy of identical yellow, orange and red leaves stretched overhead on interlaced branches. And whenever a breeze stirred, those same yellow, orange and red leaves launched earthward, swirling and whirling, flying and falling, filling the air with their kaleidoscopic hues.
It was like being inside a shaken snow-globe of glowing colors! The sky could have been black with clouds, and it would still have been brilliant amid those luminous maples leaves.
A handy log provided a comfortable seat. I rested and broke out water and snacks. Down by the creek a gang of crows suddenly began making a raucous racket—most likely persecuting an owl or hawk they’d stumbled upon. I pitied their poor victim.
A small gust curled over the hilltop and into the maple copse, stirring the multicolored leaves. This may a mediocre leaf year, colorwise, but you’d never have thought so as the cool air filled with their bright confetti.
One of the reasons I’m so drawn to these late-October rambles—beyond the incredible light and the patchwork dazzle of colorful leaves—is how you can see and feel both weather and season changing. You truly witness time on the move.
I like that. It grounds me in both the transient and eternal. And I find each simple truth reassuring.
Am I being irresponsible or realigning priorities? I dunno. October calls; I simply listen and happily comply.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.