October Skies




The chickadees are coming hard and fast like they know something I donít about December or January. I see seven chickadees at once from the porch. One stealing, several pounding seeds open, several talking about the quality of the seed. The sonic world is all woodpecker and the Picid relatives of such beyond my chatty chickadees. Flickers became suddenly vocal this week and as I walked my oldest dog this morning a Pileated male flew in and cried out above us loud and fast, the great jungle noise we have here in our non-jungle woods. The flickers seem intent on the Virginia Creeper berries, like my wandering bluebirds. The Pileateds just scrabble and pound on my great dead hickory spire.

I see a swallowtail come in to the remnants of my Brazilian Verbena. And I walk out to find it is a fresh male Pipevine. In October this seems extraordinary. It may not be, but I let it seem that way. I have to resist the urge to pluck him off the flower while he is distracted. But he and the bursting Passion flowers make me go in and get the camera and take the tripod for a walk.

The Passion vine that overwintered last year just kept going. We left it atop the lowest branches of one of the hickories just off the porch. It swallowed a whole flower pot. Kept making flowers all summer and up until, well, now, until this morning. I am guessing its full weight must be close to mine by now. At night outside the lights it looms. I have imagined plunging my arm into it and not being able to get away, green fine trailers taking my wrists like it wants contact. Like it could learn to take mammals: a Venus Flytrap that weighs hundreds of pounds. I only know it has crawled up above fifteen feet or so in full wandering height and did not attract one Fritillary this year that I know of. Some late Frits have fluttered by here in the end of summer.

It is a big year for Buckeye this year. Every year is a big year for the blooms, but this seems to be a monster year for buckeye fruit, the brown nutlets hanging everywhere from the trees I have pampered and watered in the yard. They hang heavy and scrotal on the leafless and otherwise empty stems. I pick them up and sometimes harvest them from the open skins, piling them on my porch table in a still life of sorts: buckeye and bluebird. I used to carry one in my pocket as a child for luck or just for the feel of the thing in my pocket. Nothing seems to eat them. They must have some great and secret toxic protectant in them. I do know once they take root where you donít want them, they make a great and deep rootlet like a king orange carrot that requires some work to deter. The red blooms welcome the hummers every spring. I wish them well, the hummers and the buckeyes, my April world turns on them, my expectation shrunken for now, waiting for March.

Around my circle road the leaves are playing color games in the late morning light. Beautyberry and Goldenrod add their own efforts. The sumac and low bush blueberries are falling back to reds and yellows in the complexities we want. The oaks are still green. The Sweetgum tops far above me are swaying in yellow and red. Blue-faced Meadowhawks play games around me. All the other insects shocked back by October, I see a caterpillar wasp searching for cats and here and there the red band-winged scorpionflies come up and fly off.

My wifeís chive plants are a miracle of white and black up close. Peering through the lens, things take on new configurations. Shockingly a Purple Coneflower has erupted by itself away from the dead heads of the summer cones, taunting the residual Clouded and Dukes Skippers zinging around at 50 degrees F this morning. I wonder what a chive seed tastes like? I do not try them to see. The eupatorium has fluffed out into great spreading heads of seed clusters. A pine tree has leaned and died creating a puzzle piece masterwork of decay. The red red sumac leaves fall around it. A sapsucker calls to the west. And somewhere a hawk cries over and over. I know what he means. The sky is so blue. I have no other words for it. It is probably the same blue in July. But I donít know how. Monarchs should fall out of this one. And me and my tripod can barely bear the weight of it all.

The chickadees think I should start eating sunflower seeds like there is no tomorrow. But I should not listen to the gossip of small birds. Especially when the blue sky comes down so close. I walk back home keeping my eyes on the leaf litter and the goldenrod. I pass a scintillant spider web on dead branches. So many months until the hummers come back, I think. I should count my steps. I should stiffen my spine. I should carry that late coneflower into the house and try to extract its secrets. So many things to do before October is gone.