Give thanks for dappled fall

Published 9:29 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2014

by Susan &
Biff Andrews

“Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow and plow;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim….”
— “Pied Beauty,” Gerald Manley Hopkins


If you are a nature lover and not familiar with the poem “Pied Beauty,” we urge you to look it up. Then take a ride down Rt. 58 to Southampton County in early November along the Nottaway River around sunset.

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You will see the dappled imagery of the poem before your very eyes, a feast for the senses, as you ride past pastures dotted with horses and cattle, fields of cotton, recently harvested peanuts and every manner of farm equipment that goes along with it.

If you are lucky and know where to look, you might see a few state champion trees (but that’s another article.)

What’s not to love about trees in dappled sunlight, as the low angle of the sun spotlights the brilliant yellows, golds and reds of the leaves like splashes of paint in the forest or that special way the light reflects the autumn colors as it glimmers and sparkles on the water, creating visual warmth, in the early morning or late afternoon chill of a crisp fall day?

One of our daily rituals is taking our dog with us on our nature walks. It is especially satisfying for all involved at this time of the year.

Part pointer, part setter, our family dog is herself a dappled creature. This is her time and place — a bird dog in autumn in Virginia. She is the embodiment of pure joy, running with reckless abandon through the fall woods and fields bathed in that special light that filters through the fall canopy. (Any kind of bath for her is a great improvement).

She is in touch with all her ancestral instincts, living in the moment, plowing through every puddle of water, scooping it up with her head, tossing it over her shoulder or jumping in for a belly cooler. It is as though she is having some type of otherworldly experience. We call it “the brain worm.”

It is a lesson for all of us on why we were put on the planet.

For those of us who live under large trees, this is a very special time. All of nature’s creatures are hard at work getting ready for the winter that will follow or frolicking in the last short hours of daylight. It is a time of observation and reflection for nature watchers.

It is also a time when we must put aside our fascination with the dappled sunlight and changing colors to pay for our leaf-viewing pleasure. Eventually we must dispatch “the enemy” that is gathering on the ground, a chore at our house that is signaled by the disappearance of the bottom step of the front porch.

We are a disappointment to our neighbors who are much more systematic in their leaf-removal efforts. But somehow we manage to get the job done by spring.

As we contemplate Thanksgiving Day, let us all give thanks for THIS beautiful dappled fall and the bounty of our fields and forests, rivers and streams, which provide us with food to nourish our bodies and beauty to nourish our souls.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at