“Shorter and shorter now the twilight clips; The days, as though the sunset gates they crowd; and Summer from her golden collar slips… .”—Alice Cary
Thursday, September 22, is the first day of astronomical autumn; the autumn equinox. The signs are everywhere. Migrating monarchs are on the move.
They linger in twos and threes in my backyard, sipping nectar from the garden zinnias and floating over the goldenrods and asters.
Hey—little monarch! Yes, you. Watch out for the Chinese mantis. It likes to snatch unwary butterflies.
Safe travels, monarchs.
Meanwhile, the goldfinches pluck zinnia and hyssop seeds from the plants around my patio. The flower petals litter the garden like confetti.
Breeding season is past, and the males have traded their lemon-colored wardrobe for more somber olive oil-hued duds. It’s molting season. The goldfinches pause by the water dish to rest from time to time, and to catch each other up on neighborhood news. I watch them through the kitchen window as I wash dishes, feeling content.
Cleared by the doctor to go for longer walks this week, I venture out of my backyard to a nearby park with beautiful prairie plantings and a nicely-paved trail.
It’s a great name for a park, isn’t it? “Dragonfly” and “Prairie”—two natural wonders. I slowly stroll the paved path that circles the pond. Autumn washes the prairie plantings with golds and purples.
The low slant of the sun backlights the grasses and wildflowers. There’s a bit of a cool tease in the wind.
I’m here, Autumn whispers. Ready or not.
Something tiny hovers over the path, then lands.
It’s the appropriately-named Autumn Meadowhawk, looking for a snack. I love that sassy scarlet chassis; those pale, hairy legs which are its signature ID mark. By November, most dragonflies will be gone in the Midwest. I feel my spirits lift. A dragonfly! What an auspicious sighting.
There are other bright dabs of color on the common milkweed plants. The large milkweed bugs always remind me of the monarch butterflies. These orange-and-blacks are tethered to earth, instead of sky.
As the path curves close to a cluster of trees, white snakeroot lies like snowdrifts across the shade.
This beautiful wildflower has some deadly stories to tell. Supposedly, when cows eat white snakeroot, it turns their milk and meat toxic. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died of “milk sickness”, which we now know was caused by this pretty plant. Such a lovely wildflower, with such a dismal back story.
Close by is the beautiful pale jewelweed with a more inspiring spiel.
Poison ivy and jewelweed are often found growing together, and jewelweed has long been considered an antidote to poison ivy when mashed up and applied to an affected part of the skin. However, modern medicine tends to debunk these claims. Medicinal or not, I love the jewelweed for its attractiveness to hummingbirds, and the way it brightens up the shade. It’s a fun plant, too! When you touch a ripened seed pod, it pops, scattering seeds everywhere. This gives the plant another name, “touch-me-not.”
September brings with it prairie grasses gone to seed.
Autumn wildflowers in bloom. A change in temperature, and an opportunity to see the natural world in new ways. Constellations of asters.
Striking scarlet rose hips, ripened and wrinkling.
There’s so much to see in only a short stroll. Welcome, Autumn.
What a splendid time to be alive.
The opening quote in this blog post is from Alice Cary’s (1820-1871) poem “Autumn.” Alice and her sister Phoebe grew up on a farm in Ohio, then, both moved to New York City where they were active in the early women’s rights movement.
Join Cindy for a program or class this autumn!
Saturday, September 24 —In-Person Writing and Art Retreat at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL, Spend the day immersed in nature with guided writing and art workshops. Set aside time to disconnect from the day-to-day and focus on the natural world through writing and art. Sessions will explore nature journaling, sketching, developing observation skills, and tapping into your creativity. Throughout the day, you will learn from professional writers and artists, take in the sites of the Arboretum, and explore nature with fellow creatives. Appropriate for all levels. Cindy will be teaching the morning sessions. Click here for more information, times, Covid protocol, and to register (only a few spaces left!).
Friday 10-11 am, October 14, 2022—-A Brief History of Trees in America. Discover the enchanting role trees have played in our nation’s history. Think about how trees are part of your personal history, and explore trees’ influence in American literature, music, and culture. Hosted by the Elgin Garden Club and the Gail Borden Public Library District, Main Branch, 270 North Grove Avenue, Meadows Community Rooms. Free and open to the public, but you must register. Find more information here.