The day was waning as I walked toward my gardens to gather some of their bounty. It had been a good summer for the gardens and for the hay, corn and soybeans growing on the northern Driftless Area’s rolling ridges and coulees.
The right amount of rain had arrived at the right times. There had been the right amounts of sun and warmth. The crops’ vigor mirrored my happiness with being part of one of the most moderate Wisconsin summers I’ve known.
I wondered during that leisurely walk whether the previous couple of cool and breezy days might be a sign that autumn weather might arrive a little early. The weather forecasters had assured us that some warm days would be ahead, and they seemed to be right – a comfortable warmth gently hugged me as I crossed the farmyard.
The normal date for the season’s first frost would be nearly a month away, shortly after the autumn’s late-September arrival. Even with that and the day’s warmth, something has been trying to tell me this year’s fall weather would be arriving a little early.
I looked across the field to the south for a look at the trees near the bottom of neighbor Brian Larson’s corn. A couple of maples in the woods adjacent to the field have tipped us off when fall is nearing, their leaves sneaking a tinge of red before any of the other trees in the area. I looked to the north, across our valley from which Timber Creek springs, to check for any early signs in trees there.
The trees shared nothing, arguing that my feelings about an early fall were unfounded.
But then, some birds sounded a loud counter-argument to what the trees were telling me.
The sound wasn’t from one or two, or even 100 birds. It came from what seemed to be a thousand voices, appearing on wings in circling formations above a corn field.
The blackbirds were flocking, paying their annual visit to the corn’s tassels during what most often is a harbinger that fall is just over the ridge.
Those who know of those flocking blackbirds are familiar with their nonsensical chattering which, when they’re close, drowns out all other sounds. And, those who know the flocking blackbirds know how they all suddenly stop chattering at the same time.
In an instant, the deafening chatter turns to a silence that’s just as deafening.
When the blackbirds in the cornfield went silent that day, it provided time for one of the resident blue jays to enter the conversation and voice his opinion that summer would soon end, and that fall weather isn’t far away. We sometimes hear the blue jays chatter during summer, but it’s when fall is nearing or fully arrived when those blue jays’ voices become unnecessarily bossy and scolding.
I waited for our robins to enter the conversation with their summer-evening songs, but they were silent.
I waited for the orioles’ sweet summer tunes, but there were none.
Though I knew the robins and orioles still were in our farm’s trees, they’d given their summer songs to the fall’s musical prelude.
The birds had made a convincing argument that autumn’s weather might arrive a little early along Eimon Ridge, and most likely across this northern country that was left so wonderfully untouched by the glaciers’ forces.