Last week the man farming the field on the other side of my backyard fence harvested the corn that has been growing there all summer. Fortunately, my view is no longer blocked by grain-laden stalks; unfortunately, this final phase of field work also signals gradual progression to more challenging weather conditions.
One pleasure of my retirement is gazing through the floor-to-ceiling windows lining the back wall of my house. The delight is doubled by the fact that, during my teaching years, I found little time to savor nature. Back then, I never realized I could be so charmed by squirrel acrobatics or so enchanted by ever-changing cloud formations stretching across the eastern sky. And in my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined watching – on a regular basis – an entire family of white-tailed deer bounding across the landscape.
However, every summer that field of corn stands between me and the woods I count on to track the passage of nature’s time. From well before the knee-high measuring date of July 4th, it is just me, the squirrels, and random birds finding our common entertainment limited to just my sprawling cedar and the ornamental pear tree scarred by the hurricane winds of years past. Oh, and the occasional deer wanders by, nibbling a snack mere inches from my fence.
But now, in my unobstructed view, I see a bough here and a limb there previewing the russet and gold hues soon to overtake the entire stand of trees. As I look forward to the foliage in all its fall finery, I have to agree with a Facebook post Katha Dill recently shared: “My favorite color is October.” While lots of people drive miles and miles to celebrate the colors of autumn, I need only look up from my cross-stitching to view vivid scenes of my own.
I can also count on another color at this time of year, one Helen Hunt Jackson described poetically: “O suns and skies and clouds of June/and flowers of June together/Ye cannot rival for one hour/October’s bright blue weather.” My mother quoted this verse every year as she relished October’s vibrantly beautiful skies overhead.
The colorful crispness of fall, however, will recede: skies will gray, that nip in the air will deepen into a true chill, and trees will stand bare as their leaves lie below, drab and crumbled. My mood, however, will remain upbeat as I wait for transitional scenes to unfold outside my windows. Clyde Watson’s verse summarizes the long days of nature’s rest just around the corner: “November comes/And November goes/With the last red berries/And the first white snows.”
Those first lacy crystals drifting about always allow me to forget how they will eventually pile themselves into obstacles blocking the roadways we humans have etched into nature’s land. Retired person that I am, however, I have only to peer over the page of whatever book I am reading to admire the brilliant gleam of snow stretching across the dormant cornfield to the woods beyond.
And I will watch for the cardinals that often congregate, whole families of them it seems, their lush red feathers in lovely contrast against the deep green cedar boughs covered with a fresh accumulation of snowflakes. I recently read that cardinals represent loved ones no longer with us. I miss my parents every day, so I believe this year I will be anticipating even more eagerly these scarlet, crested birds.
I am also hoping that two of my favorite winter memories might be repeated. Would it not be such fun if whimsical snow rollers like the ones formed during a blustery night two winters ago made a return to the landscape? Or maybe a favorite scene from my childhood will be recreated: a few years back seven little sparrows paused, each on its own fence post, for a few perfect seconds – the exact replication of an illustration in a long-ago storybook. Oh, the magnificence of nature in the tiniest of creatures and briefest of moments…
My regret for winter melting into gray slush will quickly fade with the first waft of a warm breeze. The position of the northbound sun will avert my attention from the pile of bills on my desk, and several times a day I will note V-formations of birds soaring home from snowbird country.
Lacy, pale green everything will sprout everywhere, and bright red tulip petals against my weathered gray fence will increase expectation for the gentle spring days certain to eventually arrive. And when raindrops splash against my windows, even for days on end, I will sing about the May flowers the April showers will bring – just as I sang to my students each year the tune my mother sang to me.
Amid all this delicate newness promising warmth and growth, I will risk dropping a stitch in my knitting to glimpse the farmer preparing his soil for a new crop of corn. After early summer conditions combine to allow germination, the fledgling plants will grow stronger and taller, gradually concealing from my view the fully-leafed trees in the distance.
As always, however, my disappointment will be short-lived. After all, the squirrels, the birds, the deer, and I do have the cedar and pear trees to enjoy – all the while anticipating our favorite, breath-taking moments when the growing season once again comes to a close.
Special Note: I must apologize for misspelling D’Wight Peirson’s name in the recent article about music teachers. Thanks to Janet Ebert for her gentle, correcting reminder. She, too, is a treasure of our community – in music and so many other endeavors.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.