The light of the day is waning. It is still early by human standards, though nature ebbs and flows to a different drumbeat banging out, jarring the senses into action, letting the world know it is time to prepare. A long cold winter awaits around the next corner, inching its way slowly with outstretched icy fingers. The earth readies itself for rest, as “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes chapter 3:1, Catholic Study Bible). The honks of chattering geese echo through the crisp air as they pack up their kin and head to southern confines. Standing in the open field gazing upwards in search of their flight, I wonder where summer went. Watching their trip south and waving my hand wildly in a farewell arc, I yell, “Good-bye. Safe journey, my friends.” I long to pack up and follow, escape the darkness that awaits. The Tug Hill Plateau is blessed to have Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) as seasonal residents. Once, I had thought about creating a manmade pond that would help attract geese; however, a farmer friend told me they would cause havoc with their droppings and damage planted crops by their forging. Thus, I admire the geese from afar in other people’s fields. The Canada Goose is part of a genus of wild species. A Canada Goose’s markings are quite distinctive, being easily recognizable, having a black head and neck, white chin and cheeks, and a body of brown hues. This large waterfowl bird is native to the colder regions of North America. Sometimes they may migrate as far as northern Europe! When geese get ready for nesting, they find a site near a water source, one that is elevated so that they can see in all directions. The female of the species does all the work, building a nest and adding down feathers and body feathers from her own body. Imagine a punch bowl on the ground, and that is the shape the nest takes while a material such as dry grasses, mosses, and lichens make up the formed bowl (Cornell, 2019). I read someplace once that geese mate for life. Sometimes I think the animal kingdom is more caring and nurturing to their mates and offspring than humans.
Autumn brings unprecedented changes and challenges on the Tug Hill. Knowing that the winter is dark, cold, long preparations begin. Farmers cut their field one last time, harvesting the corn for fodder, buzzing of chainsaws replace cheerful bird song of the season past, and gardens are tilled under putting the soil to rest. Before pellet stoves and EPA regulations, many homes contained a woodstove. Using a woodstove was twofold: primarily to heat the house and to provide a surface for cooking in case the power went out during a storm. Autumn on the Tug is a time of good-byes. Summer visitors return to their permanent homes in other regions of the United States; animal families move on, getting ready for the big freeze, and birds by late August start their paths on the wind to parts unknown. Yet, autumn maintains the speck of hope, that meniscal seed of faith that all will return and be washed anew with the spring.
For me, autumn has been a time of remorse, looking back on lost chances and lost loved ones. Being born under the astrological sign of Leo, I crave the longer days, bright sun, and blue skies. Autumn has always been a time of painful letting go. Yet, the wise Tuggers know it is a beginning, not an end. They understand that with proper preparedness, this too will pass, and rebirth will occur. I guess I am considered average height at 5’3″, but feel short, especially when trying to reach up to harvest the apple crop. The best apples always seem to be on the very top. Such as life – one needs to swim to the top or tread water in the middle – if you let yourself sink, getting up to find solid ground again may take years. It is strange how autumn tends to bring back past struggles and apprehension of the long winter ahead. It is the city dweller, the southern snowbirds, who stand in a field gazing at dancing leaves of golden yellow, red, orange, and marvel at their beauty. They do not comprehend the work and struggles a Tugger must put forth to be successful in coexisting with that drumbeat Mother Nature bangs out loudly. The call to action comes quickly once August exits, and the first snowfall and freeze can happen in October. It is with that drumbeat preparations start. Gardeners understand. They know if they do not cut back, divide, and prune in the fall, with spring’s whisper, the gardens will need twice the work to be ready as little shoots fight for a position amongst the dead overgrowth. It is such on the Tug. Everything has a time and a purpose. The harvest is collected. Canning and freezing begin in earnest. Cows and pigs are butchered by November, making sure the fattest is ready for waiting freezers. The buzzing humming of the chainsaws are almost constant in the distance as wood is piled and stacked The sounds and smells of autumn are different than the other seasons.
The smell of musky earth, chopped corn, and dried leaves replace the fragrance of spring and summer. The wind shifts. A rustling of fallen leaves overtakes the stillness of the day. As the trees give up their leaves, undergoing their metamorphosis of slowing down and heading into hibernation for a long winter’s nap, the maple trees (Acer) lose their lush green. Slowly golden hues, red and orange, emerge as the days get shorter and the nights colder. Then the God of cold winds breathes and exhales, and the leaves swirl and dance until resting on the dry earth, waiting to become one again with nature.
It was during the maple’s rite of passage that children would rake leaves into piles, running and jumping into this treasure of the earth. The crisp rustle, shouts of laughter, and glee rang through the autumn day. Once the children had their play, and before the first snowdrops fell, neighbors would gather, setting the piles alight. Heady smoke would swirl upwards like an offering to a god, a tree branch cut, and a big fat marshmallow pushed on its awaiting end. The flames would engulf the marshmallow, gingerly pulling back the marshmallow covered stick and placing the gooey sweet nectar in an awaiting mouth like a Robin feeding its young. A rite of autumn. A passage of time. Putting to bed the old and waiting for the new. Truly autumn is a “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun…” (Keats, 1982, p. 1814).
Cornell University (2019). The Cornell Lab all about Birds. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Canada_Goose/lifehistory Curtis, J. (1959).
Keats, John (1820). To Autumn. In M.H. Abrams (6th ed.), The Norton Anthology English Literature the Major Authors (p. 1700). New York, NY: W.W. North & Company.
Michelle B. Beagle – © 2022