I wake in the morning, about the same time as always, and notice that outside is darker longer than it was only a few short months ago. I get to make a similar observation in the evening as darkness blankets my home like a youngster pulling a wool blanket over his head to keep the monsters at bay.
Most every evening, between 6 and 6:30, I hear the approaching honking of Canada geese coming from, roughly, north. Last night nearly 100 birds appeared over the trees then made a 45-degree turn to the left, the entire chevron bending itself around an invisible post in my neighbor’s yard, until the entire formation was pointed toward the Chesapeake Bay, or maybe Florida.
Researchers say the geese are not going as far south as they once did. Part of the reason, as with other species of waterfowl, is credited to climate warming. Humans may deny it, but the waterfowl know when the ice is decreed to form on northern ponds, and it’s not happening with the dependability of winters past. Why expend all that effort flying several hundred miles to warm winter weather when warm winter weather from last year has not yet left.
The other reason, according to an organization called Geese Peace, has to do with genetics. Canada geese, it turns out, are not required to migrate. They do it because they are required to make baby geese where they were born. A century or two ago, hunters trapped Canada geese, tied them to anchors, and used them as decoys to draw more geese within range of the hunters’ guns.
At the end of the season, the hunters kept the “decoys” captive. Some biologic imperatives are not biologically negotiable — ask any teenager – and continuing the species is one of them. There it is; no need to migrate to a nesting ground when you’ve never left it.
So although several hundred or thousand geese will pass by from summer ground to winter, we who live in this part of the flyway can attest a very large tribe has not left for generations.
Loons, on the other hand, do migrate, and somewhere some of their species will be counting days until their departure. They need open water to take off and land. Every year on the lake where I was raised a young loon would wait too long. The lake would cover itself in ice and by the time the youngster discovered the opening was no longer sufficient for takeoff, it was too late to depart.
Meanwhile, carpets of red and orange leaves are surrounding oak and walnut trees. In the woods, in some places, visibility is becoming less limited through the branches. Mornings are a mite chilly, though the rest of the days have been notably sunnier and warmer than the experience of my youth would think normal. One day soon, I know, the warm caress of running creek water will suddenly chill my wading bones.
Autumn officially arrives September 22 at 3:02 p.m., with the equinox – that time when the sun is at the celestial equator and day and night officially are the same length. From now until nearly Christmas, the ever-shortening days are of less duration than their nights.
It’s a little like getting ready for bed, knowing the rest will be welcome, afraid of missing something wondrous that occurs while I sleep. I putter around, closing in slowly on my cot, the days chores completed, until finally Í slip under the covers to rest until spring. Or at least morning. Fall is my favorite season, except for the other three.