AUTUMN LEAVES

I’m back from a lovely trip to Florida visiting our enchanting granddaughter, Taylor, and her devoted parents, Johnny and Candace. At 16 months, Taylor is becoming excited about the great outdoors, and we had magic moments with acorns, Sandhill Cranes, a tiny cricket frog, a hungry and long-tongued giraffe (at the zoo), and leaves.

Back here at home, our leaves have finished their exhilarating tumble to the forest floor, and the trees outside my windows stand tall, fresh, and newly bare. I like seeing them this way, arms up, bodies erect and hiding nothing.

For the first time since last May, I am able to see the stars at night from my bedroom window, and enjoy some morning sun touching my pillows come dawn. The tree canopy is lush and utterly dense here in the summer, secretive and sheltering and wonderful, but I like this open time, too, when the sky returns and the branches of the trees paint a crazy lace across the morning sky.

Buzz and Flipper, my two invalid hummingbirds, should be in Florida or Mexico by now, but that would take wings that work, which, sadly, they don’t have. Buzz can hover about a half-inch off the ground, and Flipper does well to simply stay in an upright position.

They will be wintering with me in Indiana, and I’m busy trying to create a tropic atmosphere in their little room. Mostly, I keep the bedrooms shut off during the winter, and focus our heat in the main living areas. Clearly, that will not work for my two tiny charges.

For now, I have their tank on a heating pad, and in the mornings I run a small heater that blasts warmth into the room. For the rest of the day, sun hits their windows and keeps them cozy. Flipper loves her morning mist baths in front of the heater. She is preening far more vigorously these days, and I love to watch her use that lance of a beak to rearrange her tail feathers and breast fluff.

Buzz’s tongue still pokes out, and his head is tilting more to the side. I never expected him—with his necrotic beak—to live this long, yet he shows no signs of slowing down. He is clearly gaga over Flipper, and spends most of his days close to her perch. Sometimes they get cozy and poke their tongues out at each other. Last night they perched close to each other like two proverbial peas in a pod.

The difference in their personalities is amazing to me. Flipper is like a little Victorian doll. She should be wearing lace anklet socks and ballet slippers. She angles her head slightly upward and waves her beak from side to side, with the delicate primness of a shy, quiet, lady of stature.

Flipper saves her chirps for rare occasions, such as when Buzz accidentally knocks her off her perch, or the bath water isn’t quite warm enough. She is a homebody, happy to stay in front of her feeder, wandering only a few inches in a given day.

Buzz, on the other hand, is a gypsy, helicoptering from one end of their tank enclosure to the other, from one tiny branch to the next, and back again. I am inclined to think he covers this ground several hundred times a day.

And he tells you about his journeys with a sharp peep, which he uses to express surprise, disgust (with me), love songs for Flipper, and perhaps just to inform the world when his wings are twirling.

Buzz is an indignant, frustrated little scrapper. Flipper, a curious, calm little lady. Buzz is Marlin Brando in “The Wild One.” Flipper is Melanie in “Gone with the Wind.” And I love them both to pieces.

Buzz is not expected to survive for long. Flipper could be with us a long time. WildCare is considering keeping Flipper as an educational ambassador. Mostly, she would help to educate us rehabbers in the intricate nuances of hummingbird care and healing. We’ll see what the winter brings for all of us here in non-tropical Indiana.

Meanwhile, the other wild residents of my enchanted forest are doing the very same thing I am doing these days—getting ready for the winter cold. Many of my tadpoles will be over-wintering, perhaps becoming frogs sometime next summer. For now, I find them hiding under the pond leaves and stones. The frogs still haven’t decided where to hibernate. With temps here in the very-unexpected balmy 70s this week, frogs are still lounging on the pond edge and soaking up the sun.

The young crawdads have grown a bit, and I often find them enjoying the patches of sunlight on the pond bottom. A lovely midland water snake has taken up pond residence, and I suspect he’s found a fine hole to sleep away the winter.

Winter birds are flocking at the feeders, dumping sunflower seeds down to the chickens who love to forage under the birdie buffet table.

Autumn is a reflective time for me, and looking back over the past spring and summer, I am startled at the major shifts that have occurred in my life this year. Letting go of my writing as a business ushered in a flood of perceptual changes in my way of thinking and being. Perhaps few would see any outward changes in me, but I feel them deeply in my bones.

Mostly, this has been a year of letting go, of sorting needs from wants, of stepping ever more deeply into the slow lane of my life. Tiny moments are more and more precious to me with each passing day, from finding a flashing blue skink in the greenhouse, to discovering the pale green body of a Luna moth in the garage; from relishing the smell of a freshly baked loaf of bread, to catching the eerie song of a fox on the breeze. Such tiny moments of wonder have recently begun to jockey for space in the place in my heart reserved for the most grand and precious of my memories.

Yes, I say to myself, there was that afternoon that I held my very first book in my hands—newly published—for the first time. That day I suddenly understood that perhaps I had beaten cancer. And then there was that day last week when I found the tiniest little green frog under a rock down by the creek. Or that afternoon last summer when our crawdads hatched a slew of near-translucent babies.  It seems I have come to a place in my life where I can craft new, most-awesome memories from the tiniest of moments. Such a blessing!

Thanksgiving awaits, and I have so much gratitude to express that I don’t think one day can hold it all. Perhaps pumpkin pies and cranberry sauce need to be a daily menu item around here.

And how about you? What insights has autumn brought your way as you gather the harvest of your past year? Inquiring minds want to know…

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8 Responses to AUTUMN LEAVES

  1. Catherine Vinson says:

    I love your post. I was born in Ohio and moved away when I was eight. I miss the seasons.
    I live in Coastal Southern California, Bonsall to be exact, horse and avocado country. People think we have no seasons here, but that’s not true. I know autumn is coming when the sky gets a deeper blue and the shadows deepen as well. Right now we are in a mild Santa Ana condition, which means we can see forever and the stars are out at night.
    I particularly love your ability to find the magic of nature wherever you live. We have egrets in our pastures alongside the horses or resting on their backs. They feed on the insects and gophers and small snakes we have in residence.
    Thank you for always reminding me to open my eyes.
    Cathy Vinson

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Yes, Catherine, I used to live in Southern Cal. and what always alerted me to seasonal changes was the quality of the light. Most folks miss that…

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Yes, Catherine, I used to live in Southern Cal. and what always alerted me to seasonal changes was the quality of the light. Most folks miss that…

  2. Elayne Tingey says:

    I find it interesting that as I age I notice more of the tiniest things, a piece of hay that has some purple in it, Teff hay is the most lovely hay I have ever had the pleasure seeing arrive at my ranch.
    When the ever so delightful hay guy drove I couldn’t believe how soft, and absolute beautiful it was, filled with life and so many soft colors. I spouted “that is the loveliest hay I’ve ever seen” hay guy who is so funny. “why I don’t think anyone has ever said that about my hay” I guess what I’m trying to say is that it was full life and my horses and sheep jumped right in and started chewing away. I give thanks for those moments that I seem to be more aware of. When I pull out the flakes at feeding time I’m filled with the wonder of teff hay. But I seem to do that alot these days just observing my new surroundings can bring a lump in my throat. elayne

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Elayne, maybe there are more like us out there—kinda like the Indigo Children. Maybe we are the Easily-Awed Adults. A new subculture!

  3. kathey says:

    Hi Susan, it is enchanting reading about Flipper and Buzz. I can only imagine the fun which they are providing you and how much you are learning about these sweet creatures. Yet, worrisome about Buzz’s future, such a dear he is. Yes, the light here in the Blue Ridge is now different from the summer light. In late afternoon a golden glow descends and covers the landscape and lights up the hillsides and trees. This occurs yearly and lasts until mid spring when the trees have fully leaved-out again. During the winter it might be the only color seen in the landscape. Another autumn pleasure is lunching at home with friends and sharing a hot soup and a good chai tea. The day goes by quickly with less daylight in the afternoon so my habit becomes one of early to bed and earlier rising. All in all it is very pleasant with the birds returning to the feeders and munching away on the berries and seeds remaining on the shrubs and vines. Every day is different, and a bit chillier than the one before. love the image of the egrets on the backs of the horses!

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Kathey, I love standard time and these long evenings. I call them “jammy nights,” and hurry to put on cozy jammies and enjoy the enfolding comfort of the dark, the crackling of our woodstove, and my warmest furry slippers. These long nights feel delicious!

  4. kathey says:

    And your granddaughter is adorable!

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