Friday, October 30, 2009

After the leaves fall

We woke late one morning earlier this week, just in time for sunrise. It has been a gray October, and the gold and orange and purple sky that morning was rejuvenating.

The leaves had mostly fallen, so the ancient oak that screens our yard from the rest of the world, stood black and tall, its bare branches intricate and beautiful against the colors in the sky.

Without their leaves, the trees reveal a new world. We can really see the birds that inhabit those bare branches. Yesterday, I watched two crows harry a red tailed hawk through the woods and out above the hayfield. In the woods, the crows had the advantage; in the open air, the hawk rapidly outpaced them.

Dave was sealing the ends of a freshly cut cherry log when he heard a rush of wings. He glanced up and saw a huge bird laboring through the trees, something black with a touch of white clutched in its talons. Dave raced back to the house. “Is Oolong inside?” Oolong, our black with a touch of white cat, was sleeping in Dave’s study. Back outside, Dave stalked slowly through the woods trying to locate the bird and it’s prey. Finally he saw a Great Horned owl sitting high in an oak, finishing up its meal, a hint of skunk smell in the air.

When we walk quietly through the woods in the fall, we hear all kinds of birds. Woodpeckers looking for bugs in tree trunks, crows defending their territory from hawks, and the soft rustle of grouse. When you hear a grouse, you have to look very carefully because their camouflage is so good. you stand very still, sweeping our eyes across the forest floor. There! A lump on a log that might not have been there before.

It moved. With feathers mottled black, brown, gray, and white, grouse are perfectly designed to fade into the woods in autumn. The grouse stretched it’s neck, grabbed a rose hip with its beak, twisted its head, and moved on to the next rose hip.

By noon, the day was gray again. But after the leaves fall, the monochromatic birds, the tiny yet brilliant red rose hips, gold leaves on the ground and the green moss against the browns of the tree trunks give a special kind of beauty to the rain drenched autumn woods.

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