The Machinations of Autumn

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 5:00pm

Autumn is napping. She has been outside, done a little perimeter re-con, chased a few geese, sat in the yard and barked at something far, far away, then came in for breakfast and a snooze.

Yesterday, I was ignoring her morning barkfest. She does it when anything moves out on Mansion Road, or on the ocean, or overhead, she barks when, on a calm day, the sound of dumpsters being moved floats over from the transfer station. One night soon after the land had been cleared and sound-absorbing brush cut, I found her barking at the newly allowed echo of her own voice. Yesterday, she seemed especially excited, and I looked out to see flashes of red and orange toward the turn from my own “driveway.” At first I thought it was folks out riding, but they didn't seem to be moving much, or on horses, although it is a way off and down a slight incline. When I looked to where they park there were no vehicles and the flashes of color appeared to be still in place and in a disproportionate number to the usual riders.

It might be the town road crew, I thought, taking winter's quiet to check out the condition of the walls abutting the way so heavily travelled in summer, being sure fallen rocks were out of the way, not threatening a plow if snow fell.

Out I went, thinking she would run around a bit, go part way down across the field, then come back, but no, she took my presence as an okay to trot toward the corner. It wasn't until I was part way down the same road, with neither her collar nor her leash in hand, that it clicked that it was Tuesday. Closer, I was sure it was an organized group, larger than the road crew. People looking through a glass on a tripod; it was the Coot Walk, for once not on one of those Crazy weather days in which serious birders seem to revel.

They were a magnet for a sweet, friendly dog. I cannot imagine Autumn remembers the leader, who met her when I did, in Northfield, Massachusetts, on a long round trip drive on the first day of fall in 2013. She was a baby and slept most of the way back to Galilee. But, it didn't mater, she knew Autumn's name. I was losing this skirmish.

She still might have come back but then her world collided with this avian group. I usually bring her inside when the riders go off from my pasture, out on their adventures, but in truth I think by now she finds the exercise of following them boring, no one is going to get off a horse to pay attention to her. But, with that thought process too many of us ascribe to our animals, I could imagine Autumn protesting my “come back here” with “but I know this lady and she's not on a horse, she's my friend, it's okay, I can go with her, I'll be fine!”

So, after a few pointless attempts to convince her to come with me I gave up, knowing it was unlikely she could resist this temptation and return on her own, and went back to fetch a collar and leash, thinking, as we do on some day every December and January in memory “it does not feel like December/January!” I've no idea the temperature, it was an irrelevancy, the air was mild and still, one of those glorious days that is sunny but not blindingly bright. There is always a “shirt-sleeve day” in February and the real bane of March lies in the false springs it rolls out, only to retreat to bleakness by afternoon.

Amazingly, through all of Autumn's machinations, her joyous prance down the road, her barking and general activity, birdsong never ceased. The birds knew the wonder of the day, that it would be short-lived and that silly golden dog was not going to dampen their spirits.

It was, in the end, a good thing, it triggered my memory that I had to go to town for the milk I seem to regularly go into the store to purchase and go home without. I picked up the collar and leash, grabbed my wallet and headed out, knowing a ride to town, a reward, was the worst message to send to my Autumn, but. . . when I reached the group she was beyond her usual range of travel and came quickly and happily.

By day's end the weather had changed, the wind had picked up, the air did not have the same inviting quality to it. While I dismissed the forecast of anemic snow as just that, it was turning chilly and raw.

After dark, the morning calm was gone, the air had the sound of winter, creaking tree branches, rustling knotweed I have to knock down before spring. It was not until later that the rain came. I awoke in very early morning and got up, thinking I might catch a glimpse of snow that would be gone by dawn but if any fell it had disappeared.

“Winter won't come until the ponds are full” is another of those old sayings we toss around when they fit. The big pond behind my house is not as high as I have seen it, but neither did it get anywhere near as low as it can all of last summer. We see all the trenches along the highways, and many of the water bodies that lie hidden through the summer but now that leaves have fallen show through the brush when the sun is at just the right angle. It is hard to know what is new and what is only more visible.

The swales in the north pasture and front field have been puddles, silver mirrors under a gray sky, waiting for sunny wind to whip them dry. Autumn is still napping.