Late October is still a great time for the garden when you have these beauties in your beds.
Along the drive to my son’s school is a block of city land devoted to nature. Surrounded on four sides by homes, a highway, and a golf course, it is nevertheless a patch of peaceful ground. This little enclave of trees and cattails and wildflowers is the haunt of ducks, herons, songbirds, rabbits, muskrats, turtles, and frogs, as well as senior citizens out on walks and health nuts getting in a run. It is lovely much of the year, but like all wooded areas in temperate zones, never so lovely as in fall.
During our frenetic and emotionally taxing week last week, I stopped for twenty minutes one morning after dropping the boy off at school to take some pictures and breathe the cool October air. I took the photos you see in this post of Great White and Blue Herons, colorful sumac leaves, mist dancing above the water, and reflections of trees in the ponds.
When I picked my son up that afternoon, I convinced him that visiting the ducks at the park would be far preferable to playing a video game or watching a TV show. We had a grand time greeting the ducks we knew (like Tucky, who is any female Mallard we encounter anywhere in the city) and naming those we were meeting for the first time (Caramel, Buttercup, Oreo, Splashy, Ducky, Woody, Shaky, etc.). We saw two muskrats and chipmunks with cheeks stuffed full of seeds.
These two stops at the park took up less than an hour of my day. But that hour did so much good to my spirit. I saw so many different species of plants and animals living in such a small space. A compact and yet complex ecosystem.
So much is packed into our lives. So many people, activities, responsibilities, diversions–all vying for attention. But in this little park nothing vied for attention. Everything waited quietly to be noticed.
The silent rabbit I saw retreating ahead of me on the path did not need to be checked off my to-do list. Berries of every hue waited patiently on the bushes for me to note their presence or to pass them by without a glance. And while it’s fun to know the species of the trees or the birds or the flowers, it’s not necessary in order to enjoy looking at them.
Surely there were creatures attempting to escape my notice entirely, like the cautious wading birds or whatever creature ducked underwater at my approach and created ringlets of tiny ripples retreating out into the pond.
I try to make it a practice to notice nature. But when life gets so terribly busy it is easy to forget that there is a world out there that is unconcerned with deadlines or what happens on the next episode of insert-show-you-obsessively-watch. A bird is only concerned with eating. A plant is not concerned about anything at all! And while I wouldn’t want to be a heron or a maple tree, no matter how carefree their existence might be, I don’t want to miss what they have to teach me about patience, silence, and stillness.
I hope you take the time for a little stroll in the woods or along a shore or in a nature center this week. The leaves are falling and this season will not last. Your project will be there tomorrow. Go take a walk.
OCTOBER by Robert Frost
Somehow, it is October. This has really taken me by surprise. Most years, in September, I start getting out to the nature center or on the River Trail to take photos of the early hints of fall color. I get out in my yard and start trimming back spent perennials and vegetable plants. I pull out my warm clothes and closed-toe shoes.
But this September, one of the nicest I can remember weather-wise, was so very, very busy. I don’t quite know why. Perhaps it has to do with our big schedule changes at home with our son in school every day, karate and church stuff three nights a week, Sunday school preparation on Saturdays, research into my next book most nights…the list just seems to go on. Whatever the reason, I didn’t “feel” September this year. I missed it, somehow.
And so it’s October. The chipmunks are constantly chirping, for what reason I cannot tell. We’ve started a quarterly relationship with Terminix to rid our home of the yellow jackets we thought we could trust (who then perniciously invaded the sunroom) and ants and other such things. The bergamont and peonies are coming down with a serious case of powdery mildew. And any remaining tomatoes out there have been thoroughly taste-tested by squirrels, raccoons, and tiny black worms. The honeymoon’s officially over with this year’s garden and it’s time to do some pretty ruthless chopping and bagging.
Our attention is lifted from ground level as we start to notice the trees flirting with colors that have always been there beneath the chlorophyllic green. We buy the first jugs of apple cider. We start contemplating a nice color drive Up North. We remember to bring our camera with us everywhere just in case the mist and the sun should kiss in the morning over drifts of red sumac leaves. (Yes, some of us still use an actual camera rather than a phone.)
And we hope that we won’t miss October. Because this, the most beautiful of months, only comes once a year.