When God finished creating the earth, and everything that was in it, He looked upon what He had made. “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1-31) That makes me wonder if he was looking upon West Virginia in October, when the beauty is so spectacular that it hurts your heart.
With a lavish hand, October has spilled the gold of autumn all over our hills and valleys. The warm, mellow rays of the sun reflect the increasing gold of the beech, the elm, the hickory and the poplar. The goldenrod and the evening primrose vie with the sunbeams for brightness, and the yellow eye of the tiny wild asters add a golden note.
The beeches are scattering leaves of burnished gold over the ground, although most of their gilt flakes will hang stubbornly on the trees for weeks to come. There is gold in front of us, gold above us, gold below us, and gold all around us. Truly, this is a season of gold.
How I love our hills in the autumn season! The tangy fragrance of fall hangs in the air—spicy with the scent of wild asters warmed in the sun. It is mingled with the lonesome smell of wood smoke, as folks begin building a morning fire to ward off the chill. There is a blue haze on the distant hills and a lingering mist in the morning that burns off to another golden day.
The earth itself wears that indescribable perfume of autumn—that warm, brown smell of hot sunshine on rich soil where leaves are falling once more. I even like the bitter, dry scent of frost-blackened weeds and flowers after the first freeze comes. We haven’t had a hard frost yet, but it is on the way.
A walk in the woods this time of year is a solace to the soul. Oh, how I miss this! The dry leaves crunch underfoot, while a sudden gust of wind brings a showering of floating, fluttering golden leaves to join the ones on the ground. Time seems curiously suspended; the only sound is the sharp chirk of a ground squirrel sounding an alarm—an intruder is in his territory. High in the blue sky a hawk sails, and there is a sudden outcry from a flock of crows.
Acorns and hickory nuts are scattered under the trees, and here and there gnawed hulls point to where the red and gray squirrels have been gathering them. The milkweed pods are bursting, scattering their gossamer floss through the air. Overhead, a flock of songbirds gather, break apart and come together again once more as they depart on their southern journey. A cricket chirps, a lonely sound in the dry grass, and then the woods are silent once more.
It is so peaceful here in the woods. Stop and rest quietly on a fallen log and you will soon see that the seemingly silent woods are teeming with life. There is the sassy bark of a squirrel high in a hickory, and a sudden scattering of hickory nut hulls fall through the leaves. A fallen log that was deserted just minutes ago is now occupied by a curious chipmunk, its quick, jerky movements attracting the eye. Then nearer still, a mother chipmunk and her young one pop up out of a hole in the ground and look around. Spying the stranger on the log, she turns in alarm and quickly shoos her little one back in the hole. All around, the small woods creatures are busy storing their nuts and seeds for the cold weather ahead. October is putting the land to bed for her long winter’s sleep.
Right now, it is so pleasant here in the autumn woods. A flash of blue reveals a scolding blue jay, and a deer berry vine twines across the soft moss—red berries contrasting with the bright green underneath. One is loath to leave this spot, but there is a growing coolness in the shaded nooks and the clear sky speaks of frost to come tonight. From the path, a curl of wood smoke can be seen drifting lazily from a chimney, beckoning one to warmth and cheer, food and family. It is time to go.
There is a tinge of sadness at summer’s passing and the death of another season. November enters our hills, and winter looms ahead. We can look forward to ice and snow, and long, cooped-up days in the house. Nature, just as humans, needs this time of apparent dormancy to restore energy. Where each burnished leaf has lost its hold on the weathered brown branches, a new bud will take its place. The fallen leaves will feed new life into the tree, and we will rejoice again in another spring.
The beauty of the earth is not over, however. In many places, leaves have already fallen, revealing the huge and enduring beauty of our rock formations. These immense boulders are scattered all over our hills, and with colorful, fallen leaves covering them, they are truly a thing of beauty. I have always loved the rocks, even the huge ones that line our river bluffs.