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Sixty fall seasons

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

When I was 20 years old, experiencing sixty more fall seasons was a reasonable expectation. At age 70, sixty more fall seasons will be reached at age 130. Instead of looking at quantity, my focus is on enjoying quality. 

My youngest grandson is less than two and my oldest is over three. All is new for them. Every colorful leaf, marching wooly bear caterpillar, and leaf pile is a new adventure. It is a joy to spend time with them discovering. What they find is often something I do not notice. They help me rediscover what fall has to offer. 

One of my colleagues is overwhelmed with work during these difficult Covid-19 times and spends nearly every waking hour trying to meet the needs of students through virtual and in-person teaching. My daughter’s teaching has left her feeling inadequate as she tries to meet student, parent, and administrator expectations. Nearly everyone is exhausted and spending waking hours getting farther behind because more is expected than can be accomplished in 16 conscience hours. People in many professions are experiencing similar exhaustion.

Personal time with children, spouses, family and friends seems nearly impossible. A few minutes of outdoor time watching leaves fall, catching some, and tracing the colors along leaf veins is meaningfully important. 

Leaf-footed bugs with expanded leaf-like growths on their large hind leg femurs make them more easily identifiable. They have straw-like mouth parts used to pierce prey or vegetation when feeding. Ladybird beetles are gathering in numbers for group hibernation in available hollow spaces like dead trees or home walls.

Large fungi fruiting bodies on dead trees protrude like shelves where they release fungal spores. A minute number of spores will find suitable dead trees to grow in. After years of growth in dead wood, a shelf fungus will erupt from the dead trunk to release spores. 

My friend took an hour to rejuvenate and enjoy the big woods with me. At one barkless dead tree, he photographed the shelf fungus and a woodpecker hole near the top of its broken tree trunk. It pleased him I had not removed the tree and left its skeleton stand for nature to slowly return nutrients to the soil. He was thankful a woodpecker found shelter where too few dead trees stand creating essential habitat.

Simple wonders make each fall fresh and wonderful. Regardless of how many we get to enjoy, we can allow them to grace our lives and brighten our days when we take time to notice.

Sassafras leaves are orange yellow, cherries yellow, sugar maples yellow with a tinge of red, silver and red maples have some of the brightest reds, hickories dominate with brilliant and variable shades of yellow, and climbing Virginia creeper excels in displaying scarlet almost equaled by sumac leaves. Wild blackberry leaves cast maroon through fields along with nearby dogwood shrubs. 

This past week sugar maples still looked full with leaves but each year during the third week of October nearly all the remaining leaves fall in a 24-hour period. Some tree species hold their green to the end of October while neighboring wildflowers still provide nectar for feeding bees and insects that have evaded hard frosts. 

Most goldenrod blooms have transformed to seed heads. White flowered frost aster continues as one of the final plants providing food for insects before fall frost brings the season to a close. New England aster provides vivid and elegant purple to pink blossoms that glorify fall season’s end. Wonderful tan wild grass seed heads sway in fall breezes during the gradual transition to winter.

Experience the splendor of fall. This is one of the most colorful and enjoyable. Maybe it’s me savoring the quality of fall nature niches or maybe it is just me noticing. It is unlikely I will live to experience fall seasons to age 130 but I relish those I get to experience. Take time to enjoy the fall season.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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