If you look closely, you can see signs of approaching fall
The autumnal equinox is more than a month away, but already I know the signs of seasonal change. I see it all around me and I hear its call, “autumn is coming.”
This past weekend I attended the Lebanon Country Fair. Along with three volunteer rangers from The Last Green Valley, we provided information to fair-goers about all the wonderful places to explore in our region.
Fair season is upon us now, with the Brooklyn and Woodstock Fairs coming up soon. I enjoy going to our region’s country fairs, but they also signal that the warm days of summer are on the wane. The Lebanon, Brooklyn and Woodstock Fairs each celebrate our agricultural past and present; they celebrate the harvest bounty and season’s end, and provide an opportunity to show off award-winning produce.
As I was leaving the Lebanon Fair on Saturday night, I heard a sound that for me, signals the end of summer. It would be a stretch to call the sound a katydid makes a song, as it is perhaps one of the more obnoxious sounds of nature. The male katydid tries to attract a mate by rubbing two parts of his front wings together; one part is the “file” or “comb” that has rough ridges and the other part is the “plectrum” used to produce the vibration. From mid-August into early fall, the male katydid plays his tune as dusk turns into evening.
I woke the other day to the sound of silence. For the first time since late April, my avian alarm clock didn’t go off announcing first light. The robins and cardinals were silent. In fact, not a single bird was singing in my neighborhood. Clearly the hatchlings have fledged, and spring and summer duties of announcing territory, and feeding and protecting their young are over. The “empty” nesters are quietly focused on fattening themselves up in preparation for the inevitable winter cold, or for some, the long flight to warmer winter quarters.
Earlier this week I visited my grandparents’ old farm in New Hampshire and heard the beautiful, fluted song of the hermit thrush singing from deep woods — music to my ears. Lucky are we that the hermit thrush has an extended breeding season and continues singing when most other songbirds are silent.
My dinner these past two weeks also has the taste of seasonal change. Cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden, drenched in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and topped with fresh basil, have been our salad of choice. The tomatoes are ripening faster than we can eat them, potatoes and beets are almost ready for harvest, peppers are coming fast, and acorn squash and sweet potatoes are vining their way through the garden — all a tasty sign of seasonal change. Hard work back in April and May is paying off.
The other day I saw an empty school bus drive by my house. It was midday and I surmised it was a practice run for a new driver learning his or her route in advance of the approaching school year. For countless children throughout the country, summer ends with the first steps into the open door of a big yellow bus.
I have yet to notice any of our region’s deciduous trees swapping out their dark green summer coats for their multi-colored celebratory cloaks of autumn. Red maples usually show the first colors of fall, so look to the swamps and wetlands for the first flashes of scarlet. The drier, hillside slopes will follow with yellows, reds and oranges of birch, sugar maple and hickory. As the season slides deeper into fall, oaks signal the approach of winter with rich dark reds and browns. The last vestiges of the growing season cling to oak branches through the fall and even into winter.
Earlier this week I visited Blue Flag Meadow in Hampton, one of several Wolf Den Land Trust properties located in northeast Connecticut. The large field near the entrance is only mowed in late fall, after ground-nesting birds have finished their breeding, nesting and fledging cycle. The unmowed field has several types of wild flowers that are now in full bloom, including a large patch of milkweed. I walked through the milkweed patch and sure enough, there was a monarch butterfly flitting through the plants, perhaps a female laying eggs on the milkweed.
The monarch butterfly is a monophagous species, which means that during one stage of its life, it relies on a single food source — milkweed. The female will lay, singly, 250 to 1,000 or more light green eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. When the eggs hatch, the larva or caterpillar feed on milkweed. The monarch caterpillar has a distinctive pattern of white, yellow and black transverse bands. The fully grown caterpillar will begin the pupa or chrysalis stage by spinning a silk pad on a horizontal surface and then hang from this pad upside down in the shape of a J. It will shed its skin, form a green exoskeleton and chrysalis and release enzymes that literally digest its body. What’s left inside the chrysalis is mostly nutrient-rich goo from which the butterfly will begin to form.
Here in The Last Green Valley, every time of year is glorious, every season gives us a reason to get outdoors. Late summer is here, it’s all around us and waiting for us to witness. I hope you’ll join me as we care for, enjoy, and pass on this wonderful place we call home — The Last Green Valley.
Bill Reid is the chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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