Somehow a notice went out a week ago to all the blue jays in Illinois that the acorns on (what I think is) a shingle oak outside my office were ripe for the picking.
Within hours, a dozen or more jays appeared in the tree’s top branches to pluck, shuck and consume the soft fruit of the slick-leafed tree. Now, four or five days after the blue jay Woodstock began, the ground under the tree is a carpet of acorn hulls and caps that crunch — with an almost delicious snap — beneath my steps to and from the mailbox.
That’s what fall sounds like this year. Snap. Crackle. Squawk.
The jays didn’t come alone. Fat-cheeked ground squirrels, feasting on the nutty debris field, arrived a day thereafter. A month ago nary a one showed its buck-toothed face; today they must be texting and tweeting to every brother, sister and cousin to come share the fat times because the squeaking varmints dash and dart everywhere.
Old Maggie, the farmette dog, cares little about the critters that threaten the rule of her mild kingdom. Age and aches take her slowly from one sunny part of the yard to another for long, hard naps in the autumn’s just warm-enough sun. Increasing deafness promotes her slumber, too; the less she hears the more she dreams.
Most late afternoons, however, Maggie is rested enough for a walk in the woods. Like other seniors in the neighborhood, though, a sinking sun calls her home to where warmth, supper and more sleep await.
On warm days an open back door brings the sounds of another corn and soybean harvest. At night, the steady whine of grain dryers provide a one-note symphony that crickets and the neighborhood owl occasionally harmonize to.
Later, a rising, weak moon adds a silky glow to the unerring concert.
Few predicted a colorful fall, yet the maples, hickories and ash are awfully showy for all the heat and dryness they endured this spring and summer. They turned yellow, red, gold and plum earlier than in past years and will, I reckon, become bare-branched earlier, too.
That’s fair; April arrived in March so if November arrives in October some sort of seasonal balance will be restored.
Today’s damp, cool morning turns my attention to the winter’s woodpile. A long wall of aged, split red oak — too good, really, to burn in the fall — stands ready, a one-minute wheelbarrow ride from the upstairs stove.
Nearby another long, deep stack of oak, elm and hickory sits under roof as it await its hot fate in the downstairs stove. It is dry and beautiful and I can smell the hickory as I walk past the small, open-faced shed.
That wonderful, earthy aroma takes me homeward, and 50 years backwards, to the same thoughts I had as a child on the early morning bus rides to school. That bus — before books filled the hour-long rides a few years later — was a magic carpet that carried me through hills and hollows and towns and fields I’d never seen, and every day I was absolutely thrilled to climb aboard to see it all again.
Fall mornings, like this morning, were the absolute best to be on that bus because the sights and smells — steam-breathing cattle casually chewing as we lurched by, barnyard chickens scattering as children raced toward us, dew-draped corn pickers waiting to go back to work, beat-up pick-ups at the end of dusty lanes packed with sulky teenagers, a whiff of burning coal — were almost too much for a young boy to take in.
Today, however, they’re just enough to make an aging observer smile as another year’s maple leaves drift on a gentle breeze toward an aging, resting dog who dreams not of corn yields or needed rain or national politics. She just rests in the beauty of another glorious fall day.
Smartest dog I ever did see.