Temperatures dropped into the 30s and 40s this past week bringing the first snow of the season!
The snow fell steadily throughout the day on Saturday, and after finishing errands there was finally time for a quick walk just before the day darkened into evening.
The woods were coated in a white blanket of beautiful crystals. The leafy carpet poked through in places, and the footfalls on the trail mixed the snow and leaves into mush.
Bare tree branches were outlined with snowy white, and patches of sugary flakes clung to tree bark. Tree fungus shelves collected stacks of exquisite snowflakes. The snow kept the woods brighter than usual as the daylight faded. Elaborate tree root patterns were highlighted as distant lights twinkled in the evening’s gathering darkness.
Two weekends ago, over the Thanksgiving weekend, we ventured back to the woods for a walk. Construction along the roads was still underway which blocked several trails, so our walk went a long way around.
The leaves have been falling by the hundreds! Less leaves on the branches opens the woods up to the sky and lets more direct sunlight through to the forest floor. Although the days are shorter, the light in the woods is less filtered.
Late fall colors in the woods surrounded everything with oranges, browns, and splashes of yellows and reds. Green holly bushes and English ivy contrast sharply against the fall backdrop of the woods.
Autumn advances at a rapid pace now. The days are growing shorter and the air is very dry. The temperatures have remained fairly steady in the 50s and 60s with some days going up to 70.
Last week, after a cozy Thanksgiving dinner at home, we took a brief walk along just a few city blocks. It had been a long day of cooking and catching up with distant family members, and the light was already fading fast. On our walk, we passed a neighborhood elementary school with a small yard in front and stopped to watch as a rat and a few squirrels moved about in the open yards. After commenting on seeing several rats out in the open during our walk, we started to move on when I noticed a single grey bird alight on a top branch of a tall tree within the schoolyard. We were peering up at the bird because it was alone and an unusual shape. Suddenly, the bird dove down into the school yard with broad grey wings and a fanned-out tail and landed directly on the rat, which gave out a loud squeak! It was a lovely bird of prey, a small hawk, and took us all by surprise! We stood there motionless watching the hawk as it stood on the rat and looked all around blinking its beady eyes. The squirrels meanwhile, after scattering away from the oncoming bird, went about their business hopping around and eating small things from the ground, a few feet from the hawk sitting on its prey. The hawk stood on the rat for a short while, and then, just as suddenly as it had arrived, it flew off with the rat in its talons up over the rooftops until we couldn’t see it anymore.
This past weekend there was a beautiful windy day for a walk in the woods.
Leaves had been piling up since the previous week and they covered the trail in a great crunching and shuffling carpet. But the loudest sounds came from the leaves still on the branches being blown around in the gusty winds.
There was not as much wildlife visible that day compared with previous walks. A chipmunk was spotted, and a woodpecker overhead.
In some places the trees were nearly all bare, but along the trail there were still leaves overhead and surrounding the trail. The dominant leaf color on the trees had a yellowish tint. There were new colorful leaves on the ground throughout the woods as leaves have continued to change color and fall.
Near the end of the walk, the sun was setting and the leaf canopy put on its colorful vaulted ceiling display. We took photos but they could not capture the way the leaves were illuminated in warm tones and how the colors glowed from the towering treetops all the way down to the near horizon.
This weekend experienced the first daytime temperatures in the 30s, wintry temperatures to be sure! But it was a fine day for a walk in the woods, dry and calm.
The fall has been at swift work in the woods. A thick carpet of leaves on the ground, and the overall color is a burnt orangey-brown. There are still a few trees with lovely color on the branches, and some with leaves looking ready to fall, while several trees are simply bare branches by now.
It is fun to see how the forest carpet changes its pattern as we walk. At this time of year, the evidence of the variety of trees around us is all over the ground. Lovely red and yellow maple leaves, oaks, beeches, large yellow leaves, poplars, even green leaves mix together to create a handsomely decorated forest floor.
The trail is hardly visible but for a line of trampled leaves among the newly curled and dropped leaves.
There are a few cautions for walkers and joggers. First, the leaves are dry and as they get trampled, layered, and smoothed they become slippery. Rocks and roots visible above the leaves may offer no-slip footing, however rocks and roots invisible under the leaves are not your friends and will bring you face to floor with the meaning of fall as they can easily cause walkers to slip, trip, and fall!
Just a few steps into this week’s walk, this walker was struck with the spirit of Fall. A nasty brown root sticking straight up in the middle of the trail was so well blended into the leaves that this walker tripped and fell hard onto the trail. Scraped hands, scrapes and bumps on the knees, a bruised lump on the elbow, it was startling, but luckily not serious. Another walker and dog were there to help assess the damage. Fall! It is the season.
After a few minutes of walking on, the injuries felt ok to continue, and the beauty of the woods was well worth it. Like a tapestry or a colorful quilt, the leaves overhead and all around were layered in rich beautiful colors. The light changed as it filtered through so many varied leaves so that colors were enhanced all around.
Much of the ground cover plants had disappeared so that there seemed to be more space within the woods, and only the colorful leaves around. There were a few green plants standing out, such as the spiky-leaved holly. Another shrub with twisting branches also held on to green leaves. A lovely young pine with long graceful needles stood verdant along the trail.
Up atop a hill, there were sounds of rustling. A rusty colored animal was moving through the trees to cross the trail. It looked a bit like a dog, but moved differently, and it’s rich dark orange coat was no dog’s coat. It was a fox! A fox with a beautiful fluffy coat and a very long beautifully bushy tail. It was large, yet moved swiftly without a sound! The fox stopped as it crossed the trail and looked down the trail just for a second, then stepped off the path and continued it’s way into the woods and continued to move swiftly among trees, with hardly any sound at all, until it disappeared over a small rise going in the opposite direction.
What a spectacular animal to see in these autumn woods!
The noise of a family of three deer shuffling and browsing through the leaves drew our attention just off to the right of the trail. The fox must have passed between them before crossing the trail. Suddenly a chipmunk with an acorn in its mouth scampered up a tree trunk and froze upside down to survey the scene. The chipmunk descended the tree and then returned up the trunk without the acorn.
High above, a woodpecker searched for snacks in a tall tree.
After starting again down the trail, suddenly, there was the fox on the trail way ahead loping down the trail away from us. It must have circled around and got back onto the trail ahead of us! Sneaky fox! The fox kept moving swiftly. Suddenly it stopped on the trail looking ahead. A soft noise from behind made the fox turn it’s head just enough to give a side-eyed glance to the trail behind. Then it continued along the trail and turned off into the woods moving quickly, with hardly any sound, and that large tail floating behind it.
Further down the trail, a buck was alone grazing in the leaves. He posed for a few photos, and calmly continued along. A chirruping male cardinal was a fluffy brown from head to tail.
The light fades quickly in the woods in autumn. The sun sets early, but the woods become quite dark even before sunset. The return walk went quickly, to return home for dinner and spend the evening musing about the fox, its stealthy soundless gait, its sharp featured face, and its fine fall coat.
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is one of five fox species in North America. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (OhioDNR) online, the red fox typically eats mice, rats, rabbits, groundhogs, and other small mammals; also birds, fruits, and some grasses. They are solitary creatures during the fall and early winter.
Autumn arrives gradually then swiftly rearranges the woods in changing colors, and falling leaves, nuts, and seeds.
The weather cools, the green undergrowth fades away and the woods surround us with visible change, and loss, in autumn. Autumn is a season attuned with our reflections and contemplation of life’s changes.
On a late afternoon last week the woods were layered in oranges, yellows, and rusts. The whole canopy above was a colorful painted ceiling with endless variations. Occasionally the glowing yellow or red leaves of a maple shone among the burnt-orange leaves of the beech trees and oaks.
Individuals trees contrasted against each other in layers of various colors far into the distance. The woods have a new depth due to the vibrant coloring.
A trio of deer were trekking along a slope, they were nearly invisible but could be found easily by the sound of crunching leaves as they walked.
As the late sun set, its rays touched only the upper-most leaves of the canopy; the dark interior of the lower woods was backlit by a glorious vaulted ceiling of brilliant yellows, radiant reds, and fiery oranges.
It was a gorgeous autumn weekend, and after several weeks away from the woods, it was well appreciated weather for a visit to the woods.
With temperatures in the 70s, full sun, and a free afternoon, the conditions were perfect for seeing how the early fall was settling in.
The woods have cooled and dried, decorated with a crunchy new layer of dried leaves. The colors are muted browns and oranges, with spots of yellow and red. It’s lovely to see the forest floor change throughout the fall. As leaf colors change, so the light changes.
The woods were still. In the silence small noises were so clear. The fallen leaves were so dry that every shuffle and rustle was loud and crisp. Voices from clearings beyond the trees echoed throughout the woods. “Hey, Dad! Over here!” echoed off the drying leaves.
There was a slight smell of autumn, the dry leafy, almost smoky smell.
At points on the walk, one uphill section, there were tiny tapping pops coming from the dry leaves all around. Were there small seeds or falling items hitting the leaves? It was similar to the sound of first rain drops, but it was a sunny day, and there didn’t seem to be any rain falling.
Later, the sound again. Total stillness and the sounds of taps and pops on the dry leaves. Finally a few tiny drops of water appeared on nearby leaves. It was rain, but we didn’t feel it. This strange phenomenon happened in a few places along the trail!
Dead wood had decayed throughout the summer. In an old rotted stump small round balls of fungus bubbled quietly the same colors as the trunk and soil. Other wood had rotted and filled with leaves. A downed trunk had small piles of shavings on top and underneath it. Something must have been drilling. A standing dead tree had been serving as a dinner buffet for woodpeckers.
Occasionally birds called, cawed, or flitted above and out of sight. At the entrance to the woods, a red cardinal seemed curious to know who was coming down the trail and eyed these visitors for a minute or two. His feathers were not the bright red of late winter, but more subdued and fitting with the early fall. A few woodpeckers went about knocking on branches looking for treats, hardly standing still.
Squirrels seemed pleased with the abundance of acorns on the ground, and their searching in the leaves seemed to result in an upright seat and a snack.
Many chipmunks were seen in the woods. With squeaks and the rustling of dry leaves, chipmunks were energetically running along the networks of logs, hiding within the hollows of trunks and logs, gathering food and visiting each other.
At a bend in the creek, there was a nice place to sit where birds were passing from branches overhead from one side of the bank to the other. Across the creek there was a flat gravely shore protected by a steep bank, which meant no access for humans or dogs. In the small pools among the pebbles, robins bathed and dunked their heads, ruffled their feathers. A blue jay joined the scene for bathing and drinking. The water was perfectly clear. Other birds touched down on the gravely shore line to bathe and drink before flying back into the leafy branches above. A common flicker stopped down for a few moments, dunking its head quickly and keeping a watch before flying back to the trees.
Chipmunks gathered food
and ran along the networks of logs
Common flicker ( Colaptes auratus) – According to The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American birds, the common flicker is a large brownish woodpecker. Eastern birds have a red patch on the nape and males have a black “mustache”. They are the only woodpeckers in North America that commonly feed on the ground.
Late Summer has been unbelievably cool. During the past week (first week of September) the temperature barely reached the 80s. With various happenings to attend at the end of summer, this weekend was the first available for a walk in a few weeks. New construction on the access roads to the park blocked some of the pedestrian walkways but people found a way in to enjoy the weekend trails.
The temperature was perfect for walking. Gentle cool air and sun. There were still signs of the heavy thunderstorms. There were still traces of cascading water on a steep bank of soil facing the trail. Here and there small mushrooms burst out from under the carpet of leaves or peeped out from between tree roots.
Trees have been forming seeds. A birch tree next to a small meadow had beechnuts just starting to open among the leaves. Ripening seed pods looked like strips of brown crinkled paper. Oak leaves and new acorns had fallen to the trail. Leaves were still green, but looking worn with browned edges or transformed by insect damage. Here and there just a few leaves have changed from green into various colors, and late cooling summer had scattered just a handful of green, red or yellow leaves onto the ground and graced the green undergrowth with golden yellow flowers. Bold red berries hung in clusters.
Trees that had fallen during the summer have been cut and removed from the trail. The tangles of brown branches and brown dead leaves look strikingly dark against a backdrop of living green leaves. One large tangle of dead branches and leaves had become the framework for beautiful silky spiderwebs. The webs created a spectacular show of shimmering geometric patterns as sunlight and playful breezes bounced off the delicate webs.
Chipmunks sprinted along logs and shuffled through the dead leaves, stopping to nibble on snacks and eye the trail.
The heavy rains during August had a significant impact on the woods. Visiting one week later, the impacts were visible along the trails. Down along the creek, where it had appeared after the latest storm that the creek had swept onto the trail, the creek bank had completely collapsed into the creek taking large sections of the trail with it. Metal culverts to carrying stream runoff underneath the trail were fully exposed and the sand and soil had eroded from around them. Many more exposed roots, rocks, and loose debris changed the formerly smooth well-trodden path into an obstacle course. The leafy carpet was looking ragged after so many months and so much rain. But mosses and small mushrooms appeared fresh.
Trimming the open trail were starry white flowers framed by three leaves, and sprays of pink flowers. Sunny yellow petals decorated a leafy plant growing in the understory. Tree pods continued to develop and round seed balls had fallen onto the trail.
There were no chipmunks in the woods at that time. Had their ground homes been flooded? Some songbirds could be heard, and of course the ever-present robins hopped and flew along the path.