From The Mountain
Mark J. Tidwell
Fall will be upon us by the time you read this. The Autumnal Equinox is, I note, listed differently on the 2010 calendars I have hanging in the library. The Tennessee Wildlife calendar lists the 23rd as the first day of fall while some other almanac type calendars list it as beginning on the 22nd. I looked on the Internet and also found this discrepancy among various sources. I’ll stick with my most trusted source, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which proclaims that fall begins at 11:09 p.m. EST.
I’m not disputing any of the official declarers of fall, or the scientists and gadgets that have the earth’s path around the sun figured to the millisecond and mile. However, to my mind and senses, Fall 2010 “clicked” into place around Sept. 5th. Things changed. The grass was different to cut. The air matured in subtle ways I can’t put into words. Fall meadows erupted in bloom with Boneset, Goldenrod, Ironweed and Joe-Pye weed. Walnuts and hickory nuts began dropping to the ground from the forest canopy. Though summer was still firmly entrenched in many ways, little nuances and subtleties signaled to me that the pendulum of the seasons had swung.
I don’t know what exactly to expect from Fall 2010. We had a pretty severe and hardy winter during 09/10. This summer has been one to remember with its incessant sweaty days. We got over winter in a heartbeat and “over 90” has been the resounding theme of a long, sweltering hot summer. Meteorologists have proclaimed its intensity, ranking it among one of the hottest summers of many folks’ lives. If the fall colors prove as bright and vibrant as winter was cold and snowy, and the summer was humid and sultry, then we’re going to have to wear welding goggles to keep from going blind.
We have one walnut tree that the squirrels have been “cutting” on for several weeks already. I found that a little odd as the gray bushy-tails generally don’t start dining on the walnuts until later in the year. There is huge “scaley-barked” hickory in Highcliff that the squirrels have worked on for decades. I swear, it’s amazing at the hull debris, beneath that big old stalwart tree, that the squirrels have generated. There’ll be half-a-dozen “squaks” in that tree at once causing its upper branches to quiver as they feed. In younger days, I’ve been known to perch beneath its towering crown with a four-ten shotgun. But I haven’t eaten any squirrel-n-dumplins in several seasons now. I prefer being a spectator now-a-days.
Another fall spectacle I enjoy is when the squirrels get into the hazelnut patches at home. I call it the squirrel parade. Those furry little critters make countless trips from the wood line to the fence rows where the hazelnuts grow. They seem to relish those husked nuts a little more so than the walnuts. The small bushes react dynamically to a few squirrels plying their trade within. It can get almost comical watching some of nature’s finest acrobats at work on such dainty limbs.
One odd thing about this bygone summer, it is about the only one I can recall of not having encountered a big old rattlesnake around the hills and dales of Highcliff. The little community is known for having quite a few of these serpentine critters. As a matter of fact, a retired railroad track-crew-employee told me not long ago that he worked the tracks between Cincinnati and Atlanta for decades. He proclaimed that the crews came upon more rattlesnakes between Highcliff and Chaska than anywhere else he’d ever worked. So long Summer of 2010. You were indeed a hot one to endure! So hot in fact the rattlers evidently fried on the mountain ledges before they could get to the Clear Fork River to cool off.