Posted by: atowhee | October 16, 2020



The dog and I are ambling through our little local park, Clay Creek.  With recent rains the little creek is happily chortling over rocks, then racing down its only ten foot long rapids over basalt.  The deciduous trees are turning color and yellowed, fallen leaves cover the greened lawn.  We stop as one walnut leaf frees from one of  the dozen huge trees.  Said leaf floats downward, flat against the air.  As gravity pulls and air resists the five-inch long leaf’s edges vibrate gently up and down.  As it touches earth it immediately loses individuality and becomes one particle in the bright leaf-carpet whose bold color will darken and vanish as autumn persists. Still the stubborn walnuts and some smaller nearby oaks hold onto most of their leaves.  Nearby cottonwoods and alder and ash are further along in their advancement toward winter bareness.  These large walnuts are over a century old. The people who planted them long dead and forgotten. These trees have been through this process of de-leafment every year, and will continue as long as they live. We short-lived mammals cannot know what their roots sense, what their accommodating fungi impart, what their cambium knows or has inherent.  Leaves will leave and return but each walnut tree will depart but once.  And then its wood may last more decades.  We have some old walnut furniture, at least one piece over 150 years old.  It is hard, dense, dark and firm in its resolve.  It will hold glue, screws, nails, shape and size far longer than almost any animal body this side of a sea turtle.

In the afternoon, a swift puff of wind rattles the leaves in the walnuts, then a gentle golden fall begins, some float off in front of the breeze, others speed straight downward.  The bright afternoon sun comes through each as if it were a small tinted window.  The wind makes a soughing tone, the leaves are silent in answer, but active in response, until they reach repose.

Back to morning: one squirrel acrobatically leaps from one bouncing, thin branch to another and it teeter-totters violently up and own when he lands on it.  His four squirrel feet grip tightly and then he climbs up the branch to the trunk and moves on.  Down on the turf one of his fellows races across the lawn with a walnut stuffed in his maw.  Up the slope and into a thicket he goes, another nut to be hidden away to fight the cold hunger of a January morning in the rain.

Later in our walk we hear, then see a red-tailed hawk circling above.  Wait, it is half of a pair.  It is a courting pair of adults. 

The smaller of the two, the male, is flying with his legs hanging down, talons spread.  That is a common courtship move for this species.  The high-pitched red-tail scream is familiar.  You often hear it in movies and videos.  It is popular among sound directors for making a landscape seem high, wide and lonesome, dangerous to the characters on the screen. One birding friend swears he has heard the red-tail’s call on other planets and around the globe, if you believe what you are watching. Meanwhile the real hawks–the pair circle and move slowly eastward.  Their courtship is actually a beginning of the next year, the next season.  The red-tails and the Great Horned Owls will nest in winter when the dormant, leafless plants make it easier to find the prey they need on the ground.

So it brings to mind something I read recently in a book by Helen Macdonald:
“Summer forests give me little sense of time past, or times to come; they’re rich with a buzzing, glittering, shifting profusion of life.  Everything seems manifested; there’s no obvious sense of potentiality.  But forests in winter do the opposite; they evoke the passage of time.  Winter days are always moving fast towards darkness…Above and around me are last year’s birds’ nests…”
                                                                                    —Vesper Flights, 2020.

And overhead are next year’s parents.  No eggs yet, but the potential is strong and eggs will follow.

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