a childhood saved

A Naturalist's Notebook

When I was 14-15 years old, I wrote a series of 23 essays as a weekly assignment for my high school English class. I called the series "A Naturalist's Notebook." Naturalist's Notebook Table of Contents

The Arrival of Autumn: 18 September 1973

The cool, fresh air invigorated me as I sat down for a quick rest. A ruffed grouse exploded from a highbush blueberry, flying away on swift wings. Leaves came down slowly and dropped into the quiet pond as a flock of geese appeared, honking their arrival. The geese landed in the pond and their loud honks slowly faded out as they retreated to the other end of the pond. It was a morning in early autumn.

Autumn is a spectacular season, fully of excitement and new experiences. It is the time when great flocks of grackles fill the air and when geese crowd the ponds. It is the time of the early frost etched on a windowpane, the time of clear, cool days, and nights cold enough to put on the blanket. It is the time of the "fall sog," weather wet enough to make a muskrat rheumatic. All in all, it is a beautiful and variegated season.

yellow boxI don't think I ever actually saw hoarfrost as a kid: it was something I'd read about in books about the Great North Woods of Minnesota.

The unexpected often happens in autumn—a pattern of hoarfrostyellow box on lake ice, mist rising from a blacktopped road, a ringing, tinkling noise in the distance—Canada geese breaking through thin ice. The first snow is always unexpected—last year it was on October 17th. Then there were the wood ducks, one of the most beautiful ducks in the world. Their eerie, quavering calls often came to me through early morning mists over the pond.

September brings the hawk migration and the huge flocks of grackles and other blackbirds. It brings the beautiful fall colors—reds, yellows, oranges, and the dark green of evergreens. Gradually the leaves fall down, and by mid-October most of them are off the trees.

October brings the ducks: "woodies," mallards, "cans" (canvasback ducks), mergansers, buffleheads, and others. Canada geese come in larger flocks now, filling the crisp air with honks, cackles, and the swish-swish of wingbeats. New species of hawks are seen on mountain lookouts—swift-flying sharpshins, kestrels, and an occasional eagle. The first snows dot the landscape with white. Frosts are common, and occasionally hoarfrost forms small balls and miniature trees on thin ice.

November will bring the winter finches: evening grosbeak, pine siskin, red and white-winged crossbills, and the purple finch. It is also the time for the regal goshawk to appear, flying swiftly over its path. Snows are frequent, compared to October, and ice forms a little thicker. The goshawks and grosbeaks are gone, only pine siskins, the purple finch, and a few goldfinches may remain. In a few weeks, winter will set in. Autumn will be only a memory.

Next: "Screech Owls and Grackles in Fall," 26 September 1973