off the BEATEN PATH

If we listen, nature speaks to us in a variety of ways


Marcia and her dog Murphy recently took a long walk through field and forest near their home, taking in all that nature has to offer this time of year. Photos by Marcia Hage.

Marcia and her dog Murphy recently took a long walk through field and forest near their home, taking in all that nature has to offer this time of year. Photos by Marcia Hage.

With the summer coming to a close, I can’t help but notice a change is in the air, a change that can be felt with all the senses. What I love so much about this time of year isn’t so much the brilliance of color on its way, but the gentle softening of the landscape, the muting of tones that were sometimes too bright to bear in the glare of summer sunlight.

Colder temperatures at night give way to fog rising off the lowlands and lakes. The morning light is dramatic as it breaks through and dissipates the fog and the sun takes it sweet time warming the earth.

There is a chilly dampness to the air—a forecast of what’s to come—and the woodlands are alive with animals and birds preparing for the long, cold winter or fueling up for the epic journey south. The pandemic may have greatly upset the rhythm of human life, but nature forges on as though nothing has changed.

My dog Murphy and I are able, once again, to resume our long walks through field and forest without the molestation of mosquitoes and humidity. Most of the season’s flowers have faded, but blooming in their place are wild asters, both purple and white, goldenrod and black-eyed Susans.

 

 

Here and there are patches of sweet joepye weed still clinging to the last warm rays of summer. Far from a weed, in my opinion, its tall profusion of soft magenta flowers run unmanaged and untamed in the marshlands at the edge of our home.

In the woods, the hazelnut bushes along the trail are bent over with their bounty. I always intend to harvest them but the bears beat me to it every year, hungrier than I.

Rose hips have also ripened and are the only bright spots of color during this interlude between summer and fall. The ferns and grasses are waist-high and beginning to turn golden as the first fallen leaves litter the ground.

We walk along untouched by the wind while it rages and rushes in the treetops above, bending and breaking boughs and scattering the leaves of aspen and birch. We step off our usual trail and begin following a deer path. Here, I no longer felt the wind, not even a breeze on my cheek, but I could hear it in the treetops above.

Marcia spotted patches of joe-pye weed (pictured), a late-blooming Minnesota native wildflower, still clinging to the last warm rays of summer.

Marcia spotted patches of joe-pye weed (pictured), a late-blooming Minnesota native wildflower, still clinging to the last warm rays of summer.

An aspen had snapped off about two feet from its base and formed the perfect bench to rest upon. As I settled on my perch and closed my eyes, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and I instantly felt a chill. I focused on listening to the sounds of the woods around me. At first, all I could hear was the buffeting wind overhead. And then I noticed it shift and change direction, from west to east as the trees swayed collectively, back and forth. More than the rustling of leaves, it was a loud whooshing sound, but soothing, like a familiar lullaby.

A frog peeped nearby, and it was soon joined by a bird singing. I do not know who the exact musicians were, but it was lovely. As the time passed, I heard the leaves falling to the forest floor, one by one. I felt the sun reappear, warm on my face, and when I opened my eyes, the trees seemed more vibrant, more alive than they had been before.

Turning for home, we emerged from the sheltering woods and were struck by the rawness of the wind. A constant force of nature out here, the wind, too, changes this time of year, containing a biting edge that brings with it the smell of damp earth and sun-warmed clover…the lingering sweetness of summer’s last flowers.

As I stood in the wide openness of our recently cropped oat field, the wind roared around me with the ferocity of the ocean breaking against the shore—deafening and overpowering everything in its wake. It was not constant, but ebbed and flowed, like the tide.

In between gusts, I began to make out other voices. I heard the call of a crow wheeling overhead, then a cricket, and another, until I could feel the thrumming of a multitude of insects reverberating through my body. I cupped my hand to an ear and tipped it toward the sound and it became amplified, like listening to the sea through a conch shell.

Geese passed overhead, calling out to one another as we made our way back across the field to the farmhouse waiting at its edge. If we are willing to be still and listen, nature speaks to us in a multitude of ways.

Marcia Hage is a writer/photographer who lives with her husband Barry, pup Murphy and a menagerie of animals on an 80-acre farm perched at the edge of the Sax-Sim Bog in Kelsey, MN.

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