A Little This Side of the Snow, and That Side of the Haze

September was always my least favorite month. Maybe it was because it marked the approach of fall. This was the time of year we’d say goodbye to grandma’s cabin, by the wild and windy shores of Lake Michigan, and return to the city and the new school year.

Returning to school caused a certain amount of trauma. Exchanging the pines, cedars and the sounds of surf and seagulls for the cloistered and compulsory confines of the classroom… just reinforced an image of fall as more an ending than a beginning.

It’s not that school doesn’t have its positives. Without it, my brothers, sisters, and I would have just become feral critters ranging through the woods. At least in school we became introduced to math, history, recess, literature, and science.

But the lake and adjacent forests also provided a plethora of educational opportunities. If you’re open to learning, you can become proficient at “reading” the landscape. For example:

·  Flowers generally bloom at their own specific times each year… even at the close of summer.

·  Birds tell you who they are… you just have to pay attention to their language.

· Predators catch and consume prey with no animosity.  It’s just dinner.

·  Evil is not found in nature.

· Nature is neither benevolent nor malevolent… it is indifferent.

· A forest is Vastly more valuable than the rudimentary revenue from its “wood products.”

· “Sacred” refers to something very special… for example, the intricate azure blooms of the dwarf lake iris, or a gnarled ancient tree, or the melodic song of the hermit thrush.

September is characterized by fall flowers and a southward bird migration. As early as late July and into August the first yellow goldenrods were announcing the approach of autumn, followed closely by some of the blue and purple asters. Goldenrods are represented by numerous varieties. For example: tall; showy; elm leafed; grass leafed; early; and zig zag, to name a few.

But just like autumn… Goldenrods can suffer from an image problem. I’ve long heard it said that goldenrod pollen causes hay fever. This is NOT correct.  Like asters, goldenrods produce showy flowers intended for one thing… attracting insects. It’s been suggested the flower and the insect are one. Goldenrod pollen is heavy and sticky and not carried by wind. This beautiful fall flower depends on insects to perform the all important function of delivering pollen from the stamen (male flower part) of one plant to the pistil (female flower part) of another. Insects pollinate a wide variety of flowers, and in return, the flowers feed the insects nectar. Trouble is some goldenrods live near ragweed which, like Kentucky blue grass, is a wind pollinated hay fever culprit. This is a simple case of guilt by association… so be careful with whom you spend time.

Autumn is associated with decline. Now that I’m retired, I guess I can be said to be enjoying… the “autumn” of my years.  Likewise our oil economy can be said to be in its autumn. All the easy oil has been taken. Now they have to go to ever more inaccessible locations, from the arctic to the deep sea, to find more crude. September, because it ushers in fall, is associated with endings. It marks the transition from creative summer to dormant winter.

“Sorrow and scarlet leaf,

Sad thoughts and sunny weather.
Ah me, this glory and this grief

Agree not well together!”
–   Thomas Parsons, 1880, A Song For September

But… “As the days dwindle down to a precious few…. “fortunately there’s another side to this.

“By all these lovely tokens

September days are here

With summer’s best of weather

And autumn’s best of cheer.”

–  Author Unknown

Like many in my age bracket, I no longer dislike this incredible time of year. On the contrary, I now look forward to September, ushering in cool crisp evenings, incredibly beautiful and colorful foliage, and both prairie and woodland wildflowers.  What a great time to travel, hike, or just enjoy the backyard.

There’s a lot going on in the fall. Animal populations are at their maximum, in preparation for the stresses and long dark days of winter. Those critters not adequately suited to deal with the cold, or unable to hide from, outrun or outsmart hungry predators don’t make it until spring. Likewise, the hunters that can’t find prey also don’t make it. Those that survive winter’s weeding-out, give rise to the next generation. It is this autumnal observation that shows the brilliance of Charles Darwin’s insights regarding natural selection.

There are three things that put Darwin onto his “ah-ha” moment when he first developed his hypothesis regarding this foundation of modern biology we call evolution. 1). Species produce an excess of offspring. 2).  There is variation among an animal’s young. Some are darker, lighter, shorter, faster, cleverer, etc. 3). There is competition for limited resources such as food and water, particularly during times of stress, such as severe drought.

Those with advantageous traits that just happen to be suited to the current conditions are most likely to give rise to the next generation.  Biologist and author, Dr. Richard Dawkins, refers to this simply as non random selection of random variations.  This is well said.  Natural selection is not random.  And the “theory” of evolution is bedrock science today. I recommend a terrific book, “Charles Darwin, The Concise of an Extraordinary Man” by Tim M. Berra.

September can be a perfect time for learning and renewal… and immersion in the natural world. So take a hike.

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