Inhale ‘the burnt-out ends of smoky days’

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2017

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,/Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang….”

By Susan and Biff Andrews

It’s all in Shakespeare….

Email newsletter signup

I am 70, in the autumn of my life, and as usual, the Bard of Avon gets it. But notice how the images fit the concept — yellow leaves falling, bare branches, cold coming, birds having migrated. Shakespeare was — or would have been if given the opportunity — a Master Naturalist.

With age comes wisdom, one hopes. I certainly relish the changing colors, the cool crisp nights, the arrival of some ducks and geese on the lake, while other birds leave.

The final sulfur butterflies are departing, the final blue mist wildflowers, Joe Pye weed, and several goldenrod species are dying out.

Now is the time for long walks on mountain trails. Now is the time for a cheery fire in the fire pit on the dock. It’s time to go to Graves Mountain for a couple of bushels of apples — one for our consumption, one to spread fall fever among the neighbors.

Johnson and Sons have been oystering all summer, but with the cool weather, oysters take sole interest as crabbing ends. There are speckled trout and puppy drum in the James River, and stripers are now legal.

There are some people who tell the seasons by which television programs are on. Others tune in to see what home decorations are current or seasonal dishes are being cooked.

The retail giants are months ahead of us, offering Halloween candy in September, Thanksgiving paraphernalia in September and Christmas trees even now.

Then there are the sports fanatics who tell the seasons — even dates — by who’s playing whom in what sport. It’s all about the money.

As an outdoorsy person, I urge you to get out and watch the leaves fall. Consume what the fall brings you. I challenge you to find apple cider that has not been pasteurized and apple cider doughnuts.

Enjoy your yard; rake sparingly. Leave a brush pile for the little birds this winter, and keep an eye on it. You’ll be surprised how popular it is.

Go buy some pumpkins for fall flavor — the self-serve field just west of Suffolk on Route 460 is our fave.

Enjoy Halloween for what it is — a brisk evening outdoors with kids, costumes and spookiness. Enjoy Thanksgiving for what it is — a celebration of plenty with family and thanks for the tryptophans and football to follow. Thanksgiving is the only holiday that doesn’t require gifts. Enjoy being American.

Bundle up. Take a lap blanket. Go outside as dark falls early. And enjoy what another great poet — T.S. Eliot — called “the burnt-out ends of smoky days.”

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