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The Coming Fall

Garth Brown |

The plants prepare for winter with an enviable complacency. The goldenrod and grasses store up energy in their roots for next spring even as their leaves begin to desiccate. The early frost started the trees turning, but a scorching hot September held them in a yellow green stasis that finally gave way to orange and red a week ago. The annuals and the biennials in their second year - bull thistle, lamb's quarters, sweet clover, burdock, and teasel - have set seed and dried down to brown skeletons.

There are more deer around, groups of does and fawns that slip through the fencerow and into the soybeans across the street, starting on their dinner just as we sit down to ours. In my amateur estimation their population has mostly recovered since the two brutal winter a few years back starved what must have been some thousands across the state. Its memory makes comprehensible their singleminded focus on laying on fat.

There have been flocks of cowbirds and starlings around the animals, though I can't figure out why. There aren't many flies or other insects active, and there isn't any grain for them to glean. In fact, I haven't seen any foraging behavior at all. They simply seem to enjoy perching on the back of a large animal, whether a cow or sheep or pig. Soon they will coalesce into larger flocks and head south in search mild weather.

Of the ways animals make it though the tribulations of winter, like storing up fat or food, flight is perhaps the most elegant strategy. But the perfect slumber of plants in the frozen soil, waiting stoically for the thaw before the mad rush of spring, is appealing in its simplicity, even if it's a model that I can't copy as easily as I might spend January in Florida or put a few cases of potatoes into the root cellar.


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