The corn’s dry leaves applauded with varied enthusiasm as I stepped into a field the other day, that applause reaching a crescendo on each gust of September’s southwest breeze and then quieting as the breeze moved to the farm theater’s next stage.
So vain I might be to believe that the corn’s applause was for my presence, me but one of many creatures lurking there among the rows. But no, I knew that corn’s applause to honor a summer well spent and the soon-to-arrive autumn equinox.
The count of my visits to summers’ ends has given me pause about having reached the end of my own summer. Mostly, though, those visits have allowed me to know so many of the countryside’s signs of autumn’s arrival.
Those signs abound like the corn’s kernels in that well-grown field.
I see them in our grand willow, which has started weeping its golden tears, them helicoptering to safe landings on the grass below.
The sounds of fallen dry leaves skitter across our driveways and along our roads paved and graveled.
The coulees’ tall grasses, having waltzed so spring- and summer-smooth, jitterbug in the cooled breeze.
Blue jays loudly scold any beings near them, including innocent squirrels or deer harvesting acorns fallen from age-hardened oaks.
And oh, the smell of the woodlots’ duff so hungry for the leafed salad of the coming 96-crayon-box-colored in the canopies above.
Thoughts about summer festivals become memories; shorts and tank-tops are stored, and jeans and flannels are donned.
School days no longer are new and fresh, students and staffs having settled in for the long term.
Campfires, those of warm summer nights’ extravagances, start to serve real purpose in warming those romantics sitting watch on the dipper starting its somersault in the night sky.
Soybean fields and milkweed abandon their deep greens and start wearing their Green Bay Packers green and gold.
The drying death-rattle starts in the cornfields’ leaves in anticipation of hungry forage choppers and combines.
We stop to gaze at the circus of colors that arrive to surround us, readying to see, photograph, paint about and write about the colors in ways we couldn’t see or find in years previous.
Cars’ and trucks’ gas tanks are filled to assure there’s plenty to get across the ridges and through the coulees to see what the season has to offer.
Art shows, beer fests and old-car rides fill spare hours when baseball playoffs, Friday night lights, and football trips to Camp Randall and Lambeau Field in person or via couch-side televisions aren’t consuming us.
Note is made that the hummingbirds’ buzz has stopped at the feeders and that the orioles and grosbeaks have drifted from the farmyards, leaving more for the finches, sparrows, cardinals and woodpeckers to gorge on. The orioles and hummingbirds and most other birds of summer have bid goodbyes, making space for the hundreds of blackbirds that will lite upon the corns’ tassels in days before their search for warmer southern climes.
The calls of geese and sandhills more often start to echo against the azure sky above and maturing blanket of green below; transient geese occasionally make themselves known during nights while traveling by the stars or while feeding and resting in a nearby hay field.
Thoughts of those in cities and villages turn to days when leaves will have to be raked and countryside folks think about raking leaves only to jump into or for the special smell of burning leaves – though those village and city leaves also might be used for the same purposes.
Trips to attics are made to retrieve fall and Halloween decorations, them holding memories of youthful mischief and great costumes.
Anticipation is held for the next full moon, the Harvest Moon that might well reflect the first frosts and which will glow on the season’s first bared branches to reach haunting finger-shadows across our rural landscape.
We insist on stocking up on trick-or-treating candy, whether any trick-or-treaters will visit a full month away – us knowing the real purpose for the purchases and with the wink-and-nod understanding that such buying is a never-ending cycle during the coming weeks.
Hunger will stir within our mammalian beings, nature telling us the time has arrived when we should be eating more to store for the dark and cold months ahead. Some of us have little need for that message, but it’s a telling reminder how we’re not as far away from the natural world as we might think.
Old blankets and quilts are pulled from attics, shelves, basements and bags to prepare the first killing frost: We never get enough joy out of the warm-season’s fragile flowers, and we never have enough tomatoes from the garden.
Internal clocks tell us the time is arriving for caulk-guns, firewood, furnace filters, storm windows and some final warm-weather cleaning.
The lawn is left untouched until it’s too long by spring’s standards, us having read that it’s better to give it great late-season growth until we wake to it being covered by the whiteness of the season’s first killing frosts. And then, we try to convince ourselves that we’ll give it another mowing after those first heavy frosts.
Commitments are made to take those walks we missed because of summer’s bugs and humidity and heat.
We sit on rivers’ and lakes’ shores instead of dipping our beings into them, but for those few who want to feel the breath-taking invigoration of the water’s chills.
Lamenting is done about the days’ shortened sunshine.
I watch summer take its bow and listen to the field’s now-browned crop applauding for yet another curtain call. How many more bows summer will make is a mystery to me, but I’m certain that autumn is waiting in the wings to make a grand entrance.
That and so much more, then, is how we gauge summer’s departure and autumn’s arrival in our beloved northern Driftless Area ans in so many other places so spectacularly rural.
I intend to thoroughly enjoy the coming of autumn, my favorite of seasons, and join the corn in its arrival. I also applaud in homage another well-produced summer.
— Scott Schultz