Bright, clear day, with a still warm sun. The lane is gently contoured. Its dirt surface makes pleasant walking. Overhead, the canopy of leaves is poised to alter. Cold air moving down from the North will bring change as soon as it envelopes these leaves. They will turn. Fleshy green will take on cadmium and copper tones. Lush, glossy slivers of life hanging ready to take on the rigidity initiated by the withdrawal of fluid sap the bitter air will induce.
The leaves’ skeletal structure will shine in the Fall in a way it could not when the green skin casing covered these bones. This fine filigree of woodland litter will become nourishment for flora, and winter cover for the forest fauna.
Fragile intricate pieces of nature stripped bare of flesh that was born just after long winter had withdrawn – a graceful fragility, from the unforgiving harshness of an Ontario winter.
Crickets! Remnants of a very hot summer that was not a part of my year this year are making their sounds in the collapsing herbage under the trees. Their soft trills are shadows of the relentless, piercing electric noise of the cicadas in the trees during the oppressive hot humid days of summer, as acid as that unrelenting heat.
During the summer heat this lane would have been a refreshing oasis – zephyrs of cooler air released from the recesses of deep green shade moderating the climate under the protective boughs of the trees.
I - Watercolour, graphite, pencil crayon, oil pastel on watercolour paper.
Up the incline of a small hill, just off the trail, maples make a liquid shimmer on the surface of a quiet pool. When autumn colour has just begun to spill into their leaves, the veins remain a lush green while the skin stretched taut between takes on vibrant reds and burnt oranges. Today, on the pond, the leaves make a rippled ballet, their colours a startling contrast against the deep blue of the autumn sky above.
Mallards on the pond ripple the perfectly mirrored maples destroying the illusion of the pond as a portal into kaleidoscopic, infinitely repeated reflections of a physical reality that a visitor could step into, walking forever through a constantly shifting scene of hot burnished colour.
Bones picked clean by a turkey vulture join the decaying foliage around the edge of the pond. There is a softness here that disturbs memory of a harsh landscape and an even harsher climate.
The trail from the pond rejoins the MacCormack Trail as it follows the route set out when this landscape was farmland.
Once farmed, but now restored to a form this land’s ancestor would recognise, the terrain rises and falls through deep troughs, over sensual mounds the eroded remnants of glacial deposits left behind by retreating ice. Plunging down into the cleavages of this terrain, and up again over the summits, the path explores and celebrates these voluptuous contours.
These land forms wear a rich tapestry. Cornus with vibrant red stems: Wild vines laden with small black grapes, deliciously sweet and ready to eat. Black walnuts spilling out of round green husks cover the ground with brown, sticky fruits: Cherries, apples, hawthorn, the black fruits of buckthorn, spindle berry, all red ripe and ready food for the birds and mammals to feed on during the long winter ahead.
Meadows of solidago and aster, tinged brown with maturity make the blonde seed-heads of milkweed all the more luscious. Ripe and bursting-out silken seeds, lifted from careful alignment within their protective pods, are caught by the slightest breeze, tumbling them up into the air on their journey to colonise another piece of the meadow. Sumacs with woolly ripe seed-heads, all packed closely together in a skyward-pointing rust red fruit…
I remember the chickadees feasting on this food, in the depths of winter, frosted air shedding sparkling diamonds of ice, by the edge of a frozen Coots’ Paradise. It had snowed quite recently. There was a thick covering on the ground and on the ice. The South Shore Trail had disappeared beneath this heavy white cover. A boardwalk on the north shore jutted out into the solid frozen snow covered lake. Above the landing sumacs arched their stag-horn branches, up into the uninterrupted blue of the cold winter sky. Chickadess filled every branch of the trees in this iced water’s edge copse, feasting on the woolly seed heads. I stood soaked in their busy chatter and the fierce cold and uninterrupted blue of a frozen winter sky.
The sky today, though blue, is much softer. But in the shadows the air has a flavour of winter. The trees will quickly bury the escarpment under-canopy with their litter. Pine trees with brown rooted needles bear testament to a harsh dry summer. They float down to join the thickening carpet on the decaying woodland floor. Oaks with leathery leaves still attached rustle in the wind. Sassafrass gives up the integrity of its shapely lime, insect holed foliage.
Woodland dresses the second half of the trail, dark and still green. The pendulous blue-pink berries of berberis become highlights in the shadows. It is quiet, the air still. The path still follows the soft undulations of the heaped glacial mounds that are the body of this place. Meadows grow on the less acute slopes. Old field boundaries are marked by mature oaks that are home to large communities of birds, their song rising into agitated crescendos as they re-establish themselves in the trees after a trip out to the seed-rich meadows.
Further on the tail opens out and ends.
Still, damp air realises the last of the scent of rich decay. The light fades. Evening draws in. Bird sound quietens. The wind dies and the rustle of the turning leaves ceases. The cold of winter will seal fast these memories for too many months to come.