Jim McGuire: October is for ramblers

Changing leaves are commencing to decorate the landscape with color. Just a precursory hint now—a daub of scarlet on roadside sumac, or Virginia creeper’s spiral of apricot-and-crimson twinning up a streamside sycamore.

But soon you’ll see a spectacular patchwork everywhere—red and orange, yellow and gold, russet and amethyst.

Not that things are currently dull.

Old meadows flame with brilliant goldenrod. Lingering froths of gaudy asters punctuate like purple constellations in a butterscotch sky—colors of such startling contrast they might have come from Van Gogh’s paintbrush.

In a rocky corner near the bog, husks on bittersweet berries have turned tangerine-orange, though the bright red berries concealed inside won’t be revealed for another month or two.

Meanwhile, in local prairie patches, big bluestem is darkening to a rich burgundy, rippling and swaying like an inland sea with the least hint of breeze.

Horizons are beginning to widen as leaves thin and come fluttering down.

Skies run the gamut from turquoise to cobalt, azure to indigo. Sometimes this vast blue bowl becomes stippled with clouds so white they seem to glow with an inner radiance—luminous cotton-puffs sailing like ghostly galleons across a cerulean ocean.

Dusks and dawns regularly put on breathtaking shows—crepuscular performances well worth watching.

October is made for ramblers! If ever a time calls for a daily walk, surly it is now—when wind and land and sky conspire to beckon you along while filling a fellow’s soul to overflowing.

Practically any path or trail will do. The important thing is to get out, beyond the barrier of walls and glass. Refresh your lungs. Breathe deeply of air scented with autumn’s unmistakable fragrance.

As you fill your eyes with the bounty and wonder of this richest of months, you’ll renew in your heart the joy inherent in the affluent culmination of another long growing season.

October rambles are invigorating, allowing you to replenish something which summer’s hot sun simmered away.

The pulse of the season is obvious, a rhythm you can feel deep inside as you stretch your legs and feast your eyes. Its cadence is old as the hills; a pulse both deliberate and dramatic. Possibly the empirical knowledge of a moving earth—that eternal planetary tilt and spin which carries us around the circular years and bestows our changing seasons.

Certainly the October rambler finds a connection with passing time, sensing an awareness of those natural permutations which endlessly advance with the sovereign declaration of the ages.

October also presents us with countless mysteries and imponderables.

Why do jays in a favorite beech woods always scold so loud?

What prompts one little swamp maple to suddenly drop its chlorophyll and turn a dazzling fire-engine red, while nearby, similar-sized brethren—no doubt siblings—remain resolutely green?

Can that chipmunk who lives in the log pile near the creek possibly eat the vast quantity of nuts and seeds he’s been busily gathering and storing away?

Most days when I go rambling through an October woods, I end up with far more questions than answers.

There’s a necessity about October—a truth we must tap into, a certitude we need to sense. October is a time for spiritual refurbishment before winter’s cold trial of ice and snow. An interim for replenishing the faith which will carry us through and into a distant spring.

Geese stitch in noisy gabbling splendor across a lapis-blue sky.

Gray squirrels, which only last week seemed content to gambol among the backyard box elders, increasingly spend their days gathering acorns and hickory nuts to be secreted in scattered caches.

Of course we unrepentant ramblers can also find our share of tasty compensations.

Walnuts are starting to fall. Plus hickory nuts, butternuts and beechnuts. Ripening persimmons hang like tiny pink-orange globes. Fox grapes fill the air with heady allure. While a few papaws still await to fill both my heart and belly with joy!

Abandoned fields often have an old apple or pear tree snuggled into a corner. October is when their gnarly fruit ripens—crisp, sweet, tasting wilder and far better than any store-bought counterpart.

Nights are beginning to become cooler. Even days of sun often carry a hint of chill. We feel ourselves wishing we could slow things down, take the time to savor the season, enjoy the show at a more expansive pace.

But there’s a restlessness to both the land and its creatures. A notion of transition and passage. October arrives and suddenly time seems to hurry.

October rambles allow us to find good reason to be thankful for the land’s abundant fruition. A space where we can look back, look around and look ahead…and maybe even understand a few whys and hows regarding the journey.