Autumnal Observations

Even though it’s been hot and humid this week, fall still moves in swiftly. Mornings and evenings are cool. The black birch leaves line the hard brown trail and fall into the creek. The lemon yellow leaves float into the cold water heading towards the narrow channels of rocks, where they gather and slow the water. The ferns are low to the ground, turning brown and yellow. You can see their stems now, and the dark ground below feeding off the decay. I love this aspect of the fall–how space is revealed as matter decomposes.

I also love how these black birches are growing in a clump. They are beautiful, looking like human bodies sometimes, their bark so supple and shiny, like skin. Luckily for us in the east, the forests still look the same, and they are still a refuge for strange times. Not so for our friends in the west–I think about my friends there and feel an overwhelm of compassion. My hopeful feelings about how life will find a way to settle after all this upheaval are shaken. Have we reached the tipping point?

One evening this week, I was walking on a dark and shaded trail. It was eerily quiet when I heard a crack ahead on the trail. Oh, people coming, I thought, a little annoyed that the peace had been broken. Then it got quiet, and the people I expected to see didn’t materialize. I continued to walk, going off trail to inspect some mushrooms. As I ambled back to the trail, carefully placing my feet over branches and ferns, something came running out behind me, fairly close. So fast and thundering that I crouched in readiness, a response posed for impact.

And I saw it: a large animal galloping through the trees with incredible precision. Was it a fox? This was my first thought, but no no, this was tall and large, with a pale tail like a plume. A coyote, I guessed, and it galloped so fast and its feet pounded the ground, deftly jumping over tree trunks and dodging rocks, desperate to get away from me as fast as it could. Like a lightning bolt, golden and white, tail flowing. I never saw its head, even, just its long legs pounding the ground.


I recently learned about and started working on this great project for Mohonk Preserve. They are transcribing all of Daniel Smiley’s natural observations from the thousands of notecards he and a few others took on and around the Shawangunks spanning almost the whole twentieth century. One of the major contributors was my neighbor, Paul Huth, who always had great yard sales and gave me my first bunch of ramps to grow, so it really feels like a community effort.

It’s the best thing I’ve done lately–I am learning so much more about an area I know so well. I love seeing the scans of the neatly hand-written notecards. The dedication to the small details of our environment is touching, and reminds me that each small action adds up to something bigger.


  1. It is amazing how the forests can be so peaceful in one part of the world and burning down uncontrollably in another… it must feel apocalyptic out west… Wondering what will become of all the people living there and the many wild animals now displaced, too.

    What a thrill it must have been to see the coyote flash by!

  2. My heart was pounding a bit just reading about your near encounter. Very neat. And what an amazing project for Mohonk!!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s