It could be genetic. My father was a reporter and columnist, too.
What makes me think of this just now is something he wrote in his column more than 40 years ago. Though it was written in early October, I always think of it and re-read it around Thanksgiving. It sums up the season for me better than anything else. I think that you might find it nice, too.
“The sumac has put on its fall dress of deep, purplish crimson, and the sassafras leaves have taken on their fall coloring of red and yellow. Maple leaves are in the process of turning.
“Nature’s colorful defiance of death, with the eternal assurance of a rebirth of life next spring, clothes the forests and woodlands with soft green.
“The seeds of annual plants that are dead or will die are ready for distribution by wind and water and animal carriers so that the species will continue, flowers will bloom again, and browse will be plentiful to continue animal and bird life for another season.
“The dead material will return to dust, decay and be used by the plants of future years for nourishment so that they can continue, year after year, to clothe the nakedness of the earth.
“Maybe this is nature’s way of telling us that nothing is lost, that life is eternal, continuing on and on beyond the brief winter of death.
“No one close to nature can believe that death is the end of things. It is just the beginning of a new life in a different form.”
My dad, Gene Powell, from 1965.
I had a chance to think about that the other day when, in a rotten mood, I walked along my ridge, back into the woods. It was long about sunset, and a huge sycamore down by the creek was glowing bright red. The woods open up this time of year, and from the top of the hill I could see much. There’s a little settlement in the valley, not much to look at up close, but from where I stood it was pretty and peaceful. A metal sign that had been on the big oak tree so long that the tree had grown around it carried the now rusty and difficult-to-read message that hunting within 400 feet of a dwelling is prohibited, and this is the 400-foot mark.
A startled chipmunk dove beneath the fallen leaves and scooted away, making a comical moving lump under them, in the fashion of a mouse under the rug in an old cartoon. In the distance, something crashed through the brush. Might have been a deer or even the bear, but could just as easily have been a groundhog — nothing moves very quietly through a fresh layer of dry leaves.
Over there, a hollow log with evidence that something lives inside. It didn’t come out and I didn’t go in. Fungi were beginning to make their pale, shelflike appearance on newly fallen trees — I’ll need to get up there with tools soon if I want to harvest any wood from the windfall of this year’s storms. As my dad pointed out, nature quickly consumes for reuse just about everything. It wastes no time in doing so.
Surveying things close and distant, it was easy to jump ahead, to imagine the scene in a couple of months, when it will be much colder, when the dry leaves are no longer crisp, when the snow is falling with its odd way of diffusing and amplifying sounds making it easy to hear the children playing in the settlement below. The winter days when the wind will blow so cold that this very spot will be most unwelcoming, and the odd windless winter days when a walk to the top of the ridge will generate so much warmth that I’ll wonder why I wore a heavy coat.
Autumn in the woods is wistful, a little melancholy, and supremely hopeful. One learns to look around, to be observant, for there’s much to be seen. Some of it, like the chipmunk, is funny; some, like the noise in the brush, can be ominous. All of it imparts, to me at least, contentment that goes right to my core. No bad mood can survive an autumn walk in the woods.
I took my time walking back to the house and, having returned, tried to describe it in an email message to a friend who sometimes visits and who is always here in spirit, another of those easterners who has taken to this part of the world. The description was inadequate as such things always are, but perhaps it provided a taste.
It’s Thanksgiving season. Coming down from the ridge I was reminded of what that ought to mean. I thought of this place, the hills and the people and the critters and the trees, and I was oh, so thankful to be here.
The woods this time of year will do that to you.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at email@example.com.