The sparkle of hickory leaves tumbling through thinning trees onto the leaf-littered ground, the scuffling and shuffling as the breeze pushes them into windrows along the roadside, the smell of them drying and beginning to break down- all these sights, sounds, and smells are part of Kettle Road this time of year.
From the scraping of leaf-litter, a ruffled grouse rises awkwardly flapping with great effort to become airborne and disappears into the denser bush. Further along two turkeys skedaddle across the road. It is the time of serious foraging for these large, non-migratory birds that will spend the winter in these woods.
The sumac’s wine-rust-carmine banners raise the question, how many shades of red can nature create. The burdock has browned and partnered with the golden rods. Like elderly couples, they seem to complement and enhance one another. Grasses have lost their greenery and display the withered finery of old age. Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) goes from minty green accoutrement to dark kettle drum sticks that might carry a wallop.
Sanford Pond, the small kettle lake offers a kaleidoscope of transitional colors, and what you get is “a double whammy”- trees on the shore and trees in the water. Even the common milkweed takes on an exotic look, like that of ikebana, in the mirror of the pond.
Someone once asked, “why are you walking these back roads?” For most of us, the world does not work like we want it to (our cars break down, our jobs overwhelm, our bodies take on decrepitude), but here on these seasonal roads there is a rightness about it all, particularly this time year, the end of warm summer days and long hours of sunshine. There is completeness, a certain calm and peace, I find nowhere else. What more beautiful an ending than to go out, not with a whimper, but with glorious texture and color.
– Mary A. Hood, Author of Walking Seasonal Roads
Photographs compliments of Bonnie Warden
The purple asters and golden rods bring on the feel of a cheer. My own high school and college colors were purple and gold, and this time of year, their royal shades remind me of that giddy feel of excitement, the beginning of the new school year and rooting for the home team. Add to that the maroon of the grey dogwoods and the scarlet Virginia creeper, the first to hint at fall’s glorious palette, on a crisp, sunshiny, blue-sky day, and what happens is the overwhelming need to be outdoors.
A seasonal road is a good place to be this time of year. White-tail deer are likely to jump out in front of you and bound away with tails waving like white flags, not in surrender, but more like the drop of a lady’s handkerchief fluttering down asking to be retrieved, designed for attention. Squirrels and chipmunks will speed across the road at a clip to stagger the imagination. Every creature seems in a big hurry.
One of my favorite seasonal roads, Ford Road in the Pulteney Highlands becomes a medieval cathedral. Light filters through the trees as if from stain glass windows, the bright gilded yellow from locust, the crimson maples, the rusty-rose white oaks, the golden hickories. Along the roadside where sunlight penetrates the canopy and touches the ground, patches of butter and eggs known as toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) become the sun’s paint splotches. The flowers are similar to snap dragons with egg-yolk yellow and creamy hinged petals.
The corn fields rustle in the breeze like brown wrapping paper and in the green alfalfa fields, gangs of crows hang out. Pairs of cabbage white butterflies punctuate the road with flutter. Perhaps something in us recognizes the urgency of time, perhaps how little we have of it and we must seize the moment, get out and watch the changing of the guards.
Mary A. Hood is professor emerita at the University of West Florida. She has published several collections of poetry, general articles on conservation and the environment, and numerous scientific articles in the field of microbial ecology. In addition, she is the author of The Strangler Fig and Other Tales: Field Notes of a Conservationist and Rivertime: Ecotravel on the World’s Rivers. Her most recent book, Walking Seasonal Roads, was published in May of 2012 by Syracuse University Press.