The calendar tells us the autumn equinox, that fancy name for fall, is upon us.
We of the northern Driftless Area didn’t need a calendar to announce fall’s arrival, of course.
The indications have been around for days and even weeks, those birds flocking, those black walnut leaves yellowing and thinning, and the sumac turning red. Oats-eating combines have been parked for a while, waiting their return to corn fields while forage choppers hum their first clattering turns on the season’s corn.
Acorns and walnuts rat-a-tat through limbs and spatter through leaves on their journeys to season-ending thumps of finality on the duff below.
Sounds of squirrels’ teeth grating against the same acorns they carried back to the trees’ heights give background to the soft trills of unassuming nuthatches and the threatening calls of bullying blue jays.
Supple has been replaced by brittle; grass and crops which through summer soothed us with gentle full-lipped kisses have started to greet us with toothy hen-peck kisses.
Fall’s approach is also announced by clumps of red and yellow on maple-filled hillsides.
It is trumpeted by pheasants whose morning crowing moves from the grasslands into corn fields.
Some of us embrace fall’s splendor, seeing a time when the countryside explodes into a big box of Crayons that more than replaces the hues gone from spring’s and summer’s flowers.
Other people see it as a time of ending, with bared trees the harbingers of winter’s chill.
Count me among those who embrace this season, and among those who absorb all the coming days bring across our ridges and valleys.
The season will be a good time for me to drive a bit west of Arcadia, to see whether I can find that incredible little church about which I wrote many years ago – it nestled within a valley spattered by every imaginable color.
It will be a good time for me to mosey down to Trempealeau to watch the river laze by while I enjoy a nice supper.
This will be the time I reintroduce myself to Judge Gale while visiting Old Main in his namesake community.
I’ll sit at the memorial park and listen for stories from previous generations coming from the quieted voices in the cemetery.
I’ll visit fall art exhibitions and start setting my eyes on the best jack-o-lantern pumpkins.
There will be moments of hurry and moments of coffee-cup contemplation in Whitehall and Blair and all the other places our area’s rural commerce is centered.
Echoes of alma maters will be heard on college campuses during weekday events and football Saturdays.
There will be moments of wisdom-seeking while my back rests against an oak in the woods.
Night will start to become our home as much as the daylight, the moon and stars shining more brightly and the daytime sky opening to brighter shades of blue.
Some weekday morning, we’ll suddenly notice the steam from our breaths as we make our ways across farmyards and fields. We’ll start noticing in the air whether neighbors are using oak or elm in their furnaces.
The morning dew so refreshing in summer when it soaked through shoes and into trousers will instead send goosebumped chills through our bones.
All won’t be leisure, of course, and I’ll be happy if I find time to do even a few of those things I mention. Besides the normal day-to-day work we all have, the season will be filled with preparations for what’s to come – finishing harvests and assuring that shelter is ready for the next season’s snow and cold.
Weatherizing will again become an important word.
We’ll remember where we stored our flannel shirts and bedding, and will exchange shorts for blue jeans.
It’s all a routine that’s evolved into us in these parts – routine that adds an extra bounce in our collective step, but which comes with some extra work that thickens the callouses on our hands.
There’s not really a need for the season to be noted on calendars. Call it the autumn equinox or fall or anything else you’d like, but we definitely know when the season has arrived in the northern Driftless Area.