John Oyler: Autumn in the woods
For me, autumn began this year when the harvest moon made its appearance in mid-October as I was returning home from a visit with my daughter, Elizabeth, and her family.
I had just crossed the Ohio River on the I-79 Shipbuilders’ Bridge when suddenly I was confronted by a gorgeous golden, oversized full moon just above the horizon. I was immediately struck with the realization that, even though more than 1,000 full moons have risen in my lifetime, the thrill of seeing a full moon is as rewarding as ever.
Autumn came a little later than usual this year to our woods, but was easily as enjoyable as ever. Observing the progress of the seasons is one of the many blessings of living here. Early in the sequence, the sugar maples dropped their unique combination of golden, orange and flaming red leaves, almost all at the same time. There are three or four places I know where this occurs, and I am firmly convinced that the air temperature there is five degrees warmer when it happens.
At the peak of the season, the leaves came down so fast that our familiar paths were completely obliterated, forcing one to search the memory for familiar landmarks and regain orientation. It required at least a week for the paths to be re-established, a classic, bittersweet experience that reminds us of our impermanence in nature.
We must remember that we are visitors and should act accordingly.
Having introduced the term bittersweet, it is appropriate to mention the thrill I get each year when the deep yellow-colored skin of this plant’s berries pop open, exposing the beautiful red-orange seeds inside. Bittersweet is considered an obnoxious invasive species. The “Defenders of the Park” have waged war against it for years. Fortunately, I am aware of three spots in our woods that they have missed, and I look forward to their explosion each fall.
My walks in the woods always include a visit to the tulip tree we had planted in memory of my wife. It is now about 20 feet tall, with a three-inch trunk at its bole. I have nominated myself as godparent for all the tulip trees in the woods, at least for the very young ones close to the paths that I frequent. This past year, two of them, each about six feet tall, appeared to die and then put out “suckers” near the bottom of their trunks. I removed the dead trunks and am trying to train the strongest sucker in each to become a healthy tree.
I enjoy sitting on a bench near the Picnic Pavilion toward the end of my walks and drinking in the atmosphere of the surroundings. By now, the leaves are down and most of the undergrowth has disappeared. The only motion anywhere is a trio of gray squirrels auditioning for careers as trapeze artists.
The next event in our progress of the season’s ritual will be the lighting of the solstice candle on Dec. 21, to remind the sun that it is time to reverse its southern path and allow the days to begin to get longer.
I am grateful for the opportunity to get out into the woods and observe the seasons changing “close-up and personal.”