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What’s That in the Road Up Ahead?

I face a gentle, almost imperceptible, fear that is dancing on the periphery of my consciousness. Much like a gentle summer’s breeze in a still and hot day; the kind that begins almost inaudibly above in the leaf canopy, after stirring a few leaves. You look up and catch sight of a couple of them still swaying yet you feel nothing. But after a few seconds it repeats with a little more force, but still high and above you, leaving you still hot and eagerly hoping, anticipating its full arrival. Eventually, it does swell and you feel the first touch of it.

The forest has changed – it has turned the mid-summer corner and has begun its inexorable journey to autumn. The summer fruits and blossoms are gone: blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries have all but disappeared with precious few remaining and the tiger lilies have vanished. Grapes are beginning to form and golden rod is showing itself in the fields and meadows. Some leaves have already begun to turn and grasses are browning. Fall is coming.

A beautiful season, favorite of many people here in New England, fall brings pumpkins, falling leaves, and a chill to the air. Of course Halloween – one of my favorite holidays – is smack in the middle of autumn as well! The cool crisp air of fall brings a sigh of relief to many after having endured weeks of the three H’s: hot, humid, and hazy. But for me, there is always a sadness in saying to goodbye to summer, but so much more so this year than any in the last 45 years.

The animals already know it and have begun altering their routines. I know I have mentioned my insane and irrational quest for corn, probably far too often for many! (Which, by the way dear reader is finally coming along splendidly and untouched for a couple of weeks now, finally tall enough at 18” or so to stand on its own and no longer a target – at least until the ears begin to grow.) But in that prolonged battle with the local gangs of varmints, I ended up installing a trail camera to see what was happening at night, or during the day when I was not at home. And through the daily downloading of the pictures from the preceding night, I began to recognize my yard mates’ patterns. For example the opossum heading out “to work” from his den around 11 or 12 that night and back “from work” around 3AM the next morning, always taking the same route on his commute. During the day the squirrels and chipmunks would frolic and play, chasing each other around and about like children.

Now with the advent of autumn, their behaviors have changed; the squirrels are now exclusively in the hunter-gatherer mode, collecting food. The chipmunks have altered their daily habits, coming out much earlier in the morning and spending much more time below ground during the day, presumably organizing their caches of nuts and grains. With the blossoming of summer, the regular and nightly visits by the deer grew increasingly slimmer until they all but stopped coming due to the now abundant bounty of summer food available to them everywhere. But as summer slips to fall, their visits will again pick up as the food begins to dwindle again. In fact I caught a young buck on the trailcam a week ago.

There is much to rejoice about in autumn – the cooler temperatures I mentioned, a whole different bouquet of wild flowers appear, the gorgeous color changes in the leaves, and dare I add it, the end of deer fly season. The most annoying insect – in my world anyway – the deer fly is diabolical in finding ways to bother humans. They begin by buzzing past your ear in several high speed runs. Now I know what you’re thinking (that is those who have never had the displeasure of meeting one); that mosquitoes and bees also buzz in your ear, but not like these outlaws. A mosquito’s buzz is a lullaby when compared to that of the deer fly. Loud and decidedly purposeful, it is meant to announce, annoy, and augur. Then they begin to dive bomb your head. At first they literally are using your scalp and a trampoline, bouncing off and ricocheting back skyward for the next pass. They actually end up causing you to hit yourself in the head repeatedly but always 0.1 seconds after the deer fly has left. (I think they do it on purpose, enjoying the fact that they made you hit yourself!). But eventually they land and stay. And bite. Man can they bite!!! Then they open up their full bite range and begin to assail your arms, legs, back, neck, and wherever else they decide to attack. And not one…..oh no… any given time there can be upwards of six or eight circling and dive bombing you. So yes; I do celebrate fall for the end of these torturous insects!!

But as much as I enjoy fall, I mourn the loss of summer. I absolutely love summer and all it brings. It is deliciously hot and moist and exotic, even erotic. It is ripe and lush and burgeoning with warm growth everywhere. Be it the beach, the swamp, a stream, a pond, the deep woods, a meadow……regardless of where you go there is resplendent life everywhere. The gentle breezes that arrive just as you’ve about given up on ever feeling cool again, the rolling thunder and brilliant lightning electrifying the sky and your soul in the middle of the night, the frog, the heat bugs, the crickets…..there is an abundance of life everywhere.

However it is different this summer; this summer was my first fully free summer since a young boy. If you’ve read my previous words, you probably recall that I have been working since 12 or 13, and working 40hrs per week starting around 14. So as enjoyable as summers were to me as a young boy, there were still obligations. And of course once I entered adulthood and the workforce, it was nonstop work save the week vacation here or there. Not so this summer; this summer was one of essentially no obligations, save those of a responsible home owner: yard work, finances, shopping etc. For 45 years if I had a week off, I treasured it. And towards the end of my work career I treasured that time so fiercely that I would agonize over how to spend that free time and would berate myself as the week went on for not taking adequate use of the precious time. And by Sunday I would be a bear facing the return to work. That was how much I valued my time off.

This summer there was none of that; I knew if it rained today, I could hike tomorrow. There was no longer a sword of Damocles hanging over my head – my time was mine now – all of it. And I took such advantage of that, hiking twice a week, going out to eat, splitting wood, clearing land, growing corn (lol), and whatever else moved me. This summer has been a celebration of life for me. I chose the date to leave the workforce carefully, based upon a number of key dates and events, but always recognizing that the end of April marked the transition to nice weather and as such, would maximize my initial free time. And now it is beginning to turn towards its natural conclusion: winter. And there lies my fear; how to reconcile that four or five months of inclement weather that can make going outside for anything difficult.

There are, of course, steppers, stationary bikes, and many other ways to get exercise indoors in the winter, but they are all substitutes; shallow replicas of the real thing and none carry the same pleasure. Exercise outdoors is often almost invisible to the extent that you reap the benefits without even knowing you are exercising. And that is a lot to give up. Granted, we can hike in the cold. But winter in NE is more than just cold, there is ice and snow and they don’t plow the woods. Hiking in the snow is close to impossible – especially at my age. Much the same on ice. And given the increase in temperatures, it is cold enough to freeze ponds, but not deep enough or long enough to afford thick enough ice to skate. As a youth, I had a pond directly across the street from home and it would freeze by mid-December and stay frozen well in February; we could skate every day and night for months. And skating is a great example of free exercise – you don’t even know you’re doing it because gliding around under the full moon on a cold night is just incredibly overwhelming on its own.

So the fear to which I referred at the start of this is all about the impending winter and what to do. Winter can lead to couch sitting, binge watching, and way too much food! As fun as all that is, the gains summer has provided me in fitness and health far outweigh the short-lived joy of pizza and sofa! I am sure we’ll find ways to fend off the winter weight with some manner of exercise, but far beyond that is the time. As I said, being outdoors and working in the yard or hiking or splitting wood have all provided not just health and fitness but also entertainment – those activities made days fly by. And I don’t mean that as in “hurry up and be over”….not at all. But you’d go outside at 9 or 9:30am and in the blink of an eye it was 5pm. The day was full and fun and it flew by. That is a lot to find substitute for in the winter!

High on my list is reading; I think I may have even stated that last winter before I retired or even set the date. I want to go back and read a number of the classics; books I read in high school or (early) college because I had to; now I want to read them because I want to. Life brings such depth and change to us through the years and I expect rereading them will provide a completely different and joyous experience. I think first on my list is “The Complete Sherlock Holmes”. Probably not what many would consider a “classic” but I devoured all the Holmes adventures as a boy and look forward to reading them again. Writing is also on my list; I’ve enjoyed writing these short collections of thoughts and ideas in my blog and fervently hope that at least one reader somewhere has enjoyed reading them. But as much I enjoy this, my true love of writing lies with fiction; specifically short stories. I embraced and excelled in short story writing in school and just walked away from it when I left college. Oh, I tried writing a story here or there, but never managed one to completion, partly due to time constraints and mostly due to rust and my personal lack of satisfaction in what I had written. But I want to try again and winter might afford me that window of opportunity.

I know this was a twisted and trying path to merely tell you I am worried about missing summer and being trapped indoors this winter. But I wanted to not just say that, but also to explain why I was feeling this way. Thank you for sharing in this latest stroll through my psyche!! Stay well dear reader, until next time, be sure to embrace these last few weeks of summer and hold them close to you – they are precious and growing scarce.

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