Golden Asparagus

Golden Asparagus

Dreamtime. This is the welcome time, hovering between Autumn and Winter. The gardens have been put to bed under a blanket of leaves. Even the lingering golden asparagus fronds have been clipped and burned.

Next week, with the end of gun season, the hunting frenzy will be over and the remaining disoriented deer will regroup and step closer to us again. Meanwhile, the coyotes wait to see what this winter will bring them. The other night, when Barry slipped out on the porch he heard a tumult of cries, more than he had ever heard before, far away on the ridge that overlooks our valley,

If there are intimations of harshness, of a stripping down to this waiting time, there also is a surprising beauty to it  Milkweed and aster seeds drift in the sharp breeze. A dusting of snow sparkles on the pines we planted near the house ten years ago.

milkweed webIndoors, the fire’s burning. It’s almost time to draw nearer, to gather up the pile of books I’ve been saving. I’ll want to tell you about them soon. Yet still I linger, loitering through the valley, while the footing is easy, feeling the sting of the wind on my cheeks. Unwilling to head in, I slip over to the bay to see if the small, precious raft of ducks still bobs in the open water. Wait just a little longer. Still reluctant to go indoors, I sink down on the front steps to delight a while in the whir of chickadees’ wings as they pass on their way to our well-filled feeders.



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Autumn’s Last Colour

red oak leavesGradually, swiftly, we’ve watched the leaves flocking down, scattering mounds of yellow through the forest. Now, as we head towards November, nearly all autumn’s bonfires have drained, leaving the remaining scatterings of colour all the more precious. Only the occasional sparks of yellow aspen leaves dance in front of the soft grey trunks now. And, once in a while there is a slight flare of scarlet as a reminder of what we have lost.

But wait, all of autumn’s last colour is not lost. On the backdrop of the great ridge beyond our valley, with the russet of the long-lasting oak leaves and the yellow-brown of the beech leaves, there comes a second fall.

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As Barry and I enjoy watching another generation learning to love Foley Mountain, we are deeply thankful.

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Shaw Woods

Shaw Woods, a majestic old growth forest near Cobden would be a magical place to visit on any day, but to walk its trails in autumn is unforgettable. Growing up, as I did in a small beloved woods, has meant that trees feel like family to me. Caring about them is a ground for everything else in my life. So spending a day exploring a small part of what this special place has to offer was a moving experience for me.

Barry and I came to the Foley Mountain Conservation Area overlooking Westport, the place where we lived and worked for thirty years, partly because of the great white pine forest there. Actually, as I wrote in my first book, The View From Foley Mountain, it was my search for mature trees which lead us to our special life at the conservation area.

Like Foley Mountain, Shaw Woods has an active education program, and also offers well-marked self-guided trails for casual visitors. On the day we hiked there, we enjoyed seeingan exuberant group of children who were dancing around the picnic shelter before they set out on a learning adventure.

However, Barry and I simply wanted to spend a day experiencing the area’s remarkable trees on our own, so we set out with Magnus, our small dog, on the Connaught Trail. It would have been moving enough to pass beneath the grove of immense curly-barked yellow birches, one of my favorite species, ever since I first encountered some at Foley Mountain. Each of the old birches was a character to be enjoyed as an individual. After that we turned the loop, ascending a slight hill, and came upon what has been called a cathedral of hemlocks. I am fortunate to be used to the large girths of trees where I live. But in the Shaw Woods, one of the things that made the two and three hundred year old specimens exceptional was that I had to look up and up and up before you could see their tops. Passing beyond this dark part of the forest, the light changed, flooding down through a beech woods. Here it was the gnarled roots, reaching across the forest floor which struck me most.

It was hard to leave the gathering of Ent-like trees, but we had more adventures ahead. After a quick sandwich near the trailhead we crossed the highway for a very different kind of walk. Crossing a dam over a one-time mill pond, we followed the serene shore of the pond under immense white pines which were pungent under the hot, autumn sun. Flickering above the pond were late meadow hawk dragonflies. Drifting through the weedy shallows were fingerling fish.

What this place calls out for is time to sit still and appreciate, and for a while we did just that on a welcoming bench before the trail turned away from the shore. Because of our stillness, a group of red-breasted nuthatches darted about our heads, calling to each other.

Tempting as it was to follow on, we decided instead to retrace the pondside path, and then go in the other direction, following the racing former millstream, black and foaming through dense woods. It would be hard to say which direction was more classically representative of north-country landscape. The Group of Seven feeling was everywhere, as was that of Emily Carr’s light in the forest.




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Signs of Autumn

Yesterday afternoon, both wanting and not wanting to find signs of autumn, I climbed the big hill beyond our valley and walked on through the woods to the nearest heron pond. When we first came here a decade ago, this very old pond was deep enough to float a canoe. Now I am dismayed to find that it is almost drained. Clearly this is a depression that is no longer maintained by the solitary beaver who once inhabited the meager lodge on the far shore. I was expecting to see the surrounding swamp maples crimson as in other years. But this time their roots were high above the remaining water and there was no turning yet.

Great blue heron on nest_ Harry Engels

Great blue heron on nest_ Harry Engels

As I stood by the green verge, a host of leopard frogs skittered protesting into the soupy pond water. I stared towards the far end of this long pond, where once twenty heron stick nests were mounted precariously on branches of dead elms. Over the past few winters, strong winds had tumbled most of these. Today, there remained only the three in which the great grey birds had raised their ungainly chicks in early summer. Indeed, as I stood staring into the distance a single remaining heron rose up grudgingly, clearly reluctant to abandon such excellent hunting. As I watch she shifted only slightly away from my unwelcome presence and sank down on great, folded wings to begin again.

blue-heronFrom a slight bay further up the rocky shore eight wary, silent Canada geese drifted slowly into the center of the dwindling pond, followed by two very small ducks. Well, enough. All I could do was quietly remove myself and restore this peaceful scene/gathering. Change was crowding in around me. Too soon, too soon, called young flickers as they flitted through the woods, heading south. Right now. Right now, clamored the blue jays dipping down to the burr oak’s acorns, scattered under the tree.



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