DISPATCH FROM A PRE-HIBERNATION WALK

Paying respects to fall's hues -- and a woolly worm

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Friday, November 20, 2009

After a fall weekend, when most of the last leaves tumbled to the ground, an ode to autumn.

It is such a lovely day that I decide to walk my errands, two miles through the neighborhood. White cloud ruffles edged in coral span the sky. A half-moon has already risen.

The cool nights have signaled to the trees that it is time for a long rest. The chlorophyll slowly dissipates from the leaves, and they show their true colors. Getting ready for their winter slumber, the maples and oaks and poplars are in various states of dress, some still in their summer greens, some slowly blushing, and others in full yellow and gold regalia. The wind has brought down some leaves, and they crunch under my step.

Isn't it amazing how nature color coordinates the seasons? Chrysanthemums bloom in the yards, yellow and burgundy, orange and pale purple. Straw and dried corn stalks play off the trees. Maize displays a polka dot pattern in browns and rusts and yellows. Apple red, green and yellow pears, purple grapes. How did nature know to make pumpkins orange and acorn squash yellow?

I look down and see a woolly worm. When I reach down to touch it -- how could I resist that fuzzy little thing? -- it curls up into a tight little ball. I hold it in my hand and stroke its fibers. Does it know that I am petting it? I learned that one day it is going to turn into an Isabella Tiger Moth. It is all black and that means we will have a snowy winter. I hope so. I let it go to find a nice safe place to hibernate for the winter. We want it to become a moth.

They say that last year the squirrels suffered because there were not enough acorns. This year they will be just fine. Acorns are everywhere and from the energy of the two squirrels chasing each other up the tree, they seem pretty happy.

Green golf ball size orbs litter the ground, some crushed by car wheels. Black walnuts hide inside. Once the outer green shell is removed, the walnut shell comes next, double protection. One year I collected some walnuts and dried them in the hope of making black walnut cake. The shells were so hard I could not even break them with a hammer. But they are beautiful so I display the walnuts whole. It's fun to feel their texture. Maybe I should try it again this year. There seem to be plenty of walnuts to be had. I wonder if people know what they are?

The turtle is sunning himself on the log that sticks out of the pond. He isn't quite ready to bury himself in the mud for the winter. It is going to be cold soon enough. But today, he absorbs some of the sun's energy, warming himself up nicely, and enjoys the day as much as I do.

-- Marsha Kostura Schmidt, Silver Spring


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