Finding Beauty in a September Day
“For days now, monarch butterflies have been drifting through. While birds are migrating south by night, in starlight and moonlight, these butterflies are moving south by day, in brilliant sunshine and under the shadows of clouds. The night of the migrating songbird finds its parallel in the day of the migrating monarchs.”
From “A Walk Through the Year – Sept. 3,” by Edwin Way Teale.
September is fast approaching with the turn of the calendar this Wednesday and the Autumnal Equinox to follow Sept. 22. Today’s column marks the last in my monthly series sharing the beauty in nature that I encounter each month as we passed through the four seasons of The Last Green Valley together. This series began last October, a most intoxicating month of the year when autumn air turns crisp and hills sparkle in magnificent color, and it ends in September, a month of harvest when the annual cycle of seasonal change can make a sudden appearance.
What is beauty? Is it the sight of a summer sunset, or the sound of a wood thrush call? Is it the aroma of honeysuckle, the taste of a freshly plucked Macintosh apple, or the feel of the cooling breeze following a thunderstorm? To me beauty is found in all of our senses, one just needs to be ready for it when it arrives.
If the change of the Vernal Equinox is announced in the singing of birds, then the change of the Autumnal Equinox is announced by the singing of insects. The birds sing to the rising sun of a springtime dawn, and the insects sing as darkness falls into a late summer night and approaching fall.
From the shadows comes the song of the katydid. Hidden somewhere in the green foliage of a tree, in leaf-colored camouflage, the male katydid sings to attract a mate. His music is produced by rubbing together his forewings and the sound is what gives the insect its name – “katydid, katydid, katydid did.” In truth it is a peculiar obnoxious utterance, not a song — for me summer’s end is foretold by this insect’s refrain.
I would guess the most loved insect is the strikingly beautiful monarch butterfly. Larger than most of its kin, the monarch’s orange and black markings stand out as it moves from flower to flower. This is the time of year when the monarchs focus on tanking up on nectar to fuel their migration south.
Last week I thought to get a jump on the fall mowing of our back pasture. As my brush hog sliced through the forbs and grasses long gone to seed, a lone monarch butterfly flew beside my tractor as if to guide my way. The goldenrod is now beginning to bloom, and I know it’s a favorite food source for monarchs. I took the hint, purposely avoided the large patches of goldenrod, and drove the tractor back to the barn. I’ll finish the fall mowing in November after autumn frosts have reduced the goldenrod to dry brown stems.
What’s not to like about an apple? I like to try the free samples of apple varieties at the Woodstock Fair – always on Labor Day weekend. Local orchards bring varieties that are typically available in early September, and the traditionalist in me favors the old reliable Macintosh and Cortland. The tart and tangy Mac has that snap and bite that makes you say, “now that’s a superb apple!”
If beauty can be found in a sense of touch, then the delicate fuzz on a freshly picked peach is a lovely thing to marvel at. At this writing I have a half dozen or so fresh peaches from Lapsley Orchard in Pomfret. I make a point of stopping there this time of year for their apples and found the peaches irresistible. They had been picked that morning and were warm to the touch. I gave one or two a gentle squeeze and knew in a day or two they would be soft and juicy. I turned one in my hand and felt the soft fuzz caress my fingers. The fuzz is important to the peach since the tiny hairs irritate some insects and keeps them from laying their eggs on the soft flesh of the fruit. The feel of peach fuzz is nice, but the taste of a fully ripe fresh (local) peach is out of this world.
Late August brought another heat wave, yet more rain, and Tropical Storm Henri! Hopefully September will bring the cooler nights of autumn. For me, autumn arrives unexpectedly on the soft blue whiffs of wood smoke. For those who heat their homes with wood, the rush is on to get cordwood stacked and ready for winter. We live in New England, so no time to waste to get ready for the snow and cold.
Is the smell of woodsmoke a thing of beauty? I guess it depends on the context. For those who live in the western states the smell of woodsmoke can foretell the devastation of wildfires that have plagued the region for several years. Thankfully, for me the smell of woodsmoke evokes memories of cozy fireplaces, campfires, and toasting marshmallows.
We live in a stunningly beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. Throughout the year ahead, I’ll continue to cherish my steps, ever forward into the beauty of our natural world. I hope you’ll do the same. Together, let us care for this place we call home, enjoy it, and pass it on.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at 860-774-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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