Just over a week ago autumn officially began. But of course official start and end dates for seasons mean very little, with exception to the earth’s relationship to the sun.
Folks just know when fall has arrived. Yeah, yeah, I know, there’s the falling temperature and falling, colorful leaves, but many other indicators–less easily perceived–are all around us for those who are willing to look. And sometimes listen.
Last week, on a warm afternoon, I stood out in my furthest pasture running fence wire. The cathedral oaks that surrounded me still had well over 90-percent of their leaves, even if many of the younger softwoods had already lost most of theirs, and the grass below my feet was a lush green. For all intents and purposes, it really felt like it was still a summer day, with the exception of what struck my ears.
From over a half mile away, I could hear my neighbors to the south calling their cows up to the barn for dinner, something I hadn’t heard in a long time.
And soon thereafter, from nearly a mile away, I could hear my neighbor to the north firing up the vacuum pump in his milking barn.
On a true summer day, neither of those two sounds would have ever made their way to my pastures, simply because the dense summer foliage muffles any such possibility. But just enough leaves had fallen from the tens of thousands of trees that separate our three farms that barnyard sounds were now able to travel long distances, even though the forest was still primarily a dark, thick green, barely showing hints of fall.
Shortly after realizing that sounds were now traveling unencumbered through the oaks, maples and basswoods, I chuckled, realizing that I too could probably be heard.
Meandering around my pastures, running fence wire, I find myself frequently singing loud and off-pitch to pass the time. Singing provides a rhythm for fence building and, in addition, lets any bears in the area know where I am from a safe distance. I’m big on not wanting to surprise bears.
On that afternoon, I had been vocally butchering versions of 1980s Steve Earle and 1970s Neil Young songs. If my neighbors had heard me (and I hope they didn’t), they likely would have assumed I was getting mauled by a bear long before they recognized it as anything close to singing.
But cows and country rock songs weren’t the only noises in the pasture that afternoon. Even less perceptible sounds were present as well, further confirming for me that fall was almost here.
Underneath my feet, there was the faint crackling of those errant leaves that had already fallen, the ones whose departure from the branches above had made possible the long travels of sound I had heard from my neighbors. There were not enough leaves on the ground to make the full-blown snap, crackle, pop sound of walking during real fall, but there were enough leaves to know that the sound of the ground and grass had changed since July.
But that was last week, and this is this week. Now real fall takes hold with temperatures in the 30s, 40s and 50s, and the sounds around us will travel at greater and greater distances at a rapid pace as we watch the leaves flutter by the thousands from the trees. Before we know it, sounds will travel amazing distances through the bare branches, and hunters wearing orange will fill those naked woods in hopes of bringing home a deer.
If you ask me (I’m aware that you didn’t), fall is the best of the four seasons. It gives respite from the heat and humidity of summer and eases us all–humans and animals alike–into vicious winter. Some years, fall’s transition is more gentle than others. Short, long, wet, dry ... for me, fall is a magical season. And as long as I can remember to keep my voice down when I’m singing out in the pasture, I would bet that my neighbors would likely agree.
Andre LaSalle is a former Messenger staff writer.