Every October when the changing leaves are garish enough, we head to a high rock ridge with a warm southern exposure and gawk at the valley below. But this year we took more photos of the rocks than of the leaves.
Looking at the photos later, it struck me that granite has a fall color. A summer’s worth of sun bleaches it almost to the billion year old earth bone that it is.
After that distant view of the fall foliage, I went down to the East Trail Pond and sitting on the rocks there I saw dark-eyed juncos flitting through the leafless vegetation just above the pond water.
You might see one anytime of year where I live along the Canadian border, but in October they migrate through in bunches heading south and are more plentiful here during the winter.
A junco is two toned, black top and white bottom, a gray blur when it flits about in the bare trees.
Every year I take photos of the changing leaves reflected in the still beaver ponds. But for 20 years now I’ve been trying to see the world through beavers’ eyes, and I don’t think beavers care at all about colorful leaves. Bark is another matter.
Beavers collect twigs, branches and logs into a cache for winter food. In a shallow pond like this, the pile rises well above the water level, a gray to brown ellipse spoiling the dancing reflections of the trees on the pond water.
Beavers in October and November have an eye for mud. They bury the greens on their dam with thick gobs that they push up from the pond bottom.
And late in the fall after a few freezing nights they carry mud up on their lodge giving it a black armor that will freeze hard for both insulation and protection from coyotes. Ten years ago the East Trail Pond beaver family lived in a small nearby pond I call Thicket Pond. I didn’t have to wait until the ponds froze to get a good close up of a mudded lodge.
Back in November 2000, I got my best video of a beaver carrying mud up onto its lodge, though the still I lifted from the video is not that good. What looks gray was black with mud.
I must say, hauling mud up like that from the pond bottom is one of the hardest things for me to see through the beavers’ eyes.
Raised in the suburbs, the colorful descent of light leaves and their collection into heaps of crackling brown was the epitome of fall. Now that I know the swamps, the colorful leaves are the least of fall. Nature doesn’t heap them up like suburban boys do.
The essential sere heaps are not the leaves but the dense meadow plants and flowers. While the leaves fall on the pond water and sink to oblivion, the low, thick, brown vegetation hulks at every corner.
There are slices of delicate beauty to be found as tall grasses die
But most of the plants die with great gobs of colorlessness, gray beige brown anonymous beauty.
Are those pretty white pink pistilled asters become a grotesque dancing momento mori?
In the meadows one finds the marching legions of decay
And in pits that were old beaver playgrounds a dance of death.
Some tall plants seem to become ghosts directly
Not that I can guess what they were in life -- goldenrods?
There are few falling leaves from these plant seemingly frozen in death.
At first blush the red fruits of the winterberry seem to have carved out a niche of vigor and life
But the woody shrub is only a spray in the sea of brown.
It dawns on you when you swim the meadows again and then again, that the decaying plants are persistent. They retain a buoyancy that should make the flighty leaves blush.
Yet the earth calls the leaves down and lets the meadow plants hulk in spooky waves of brown for the same reason, blankets to ward off the coming cold and make the comforting snow a little easier to bear.
There is no fall. The heat of summer is kneeling.