Why Autumn in my Favorite Season, by Aileen Kerrigan

          This week in White Clay Creek State Park, I was really blown away at how immediate the change into Autumn was. The smells in the air turned from fresh water and foliage to decay and wet soil. The sounds in the trees turned from singing song birds to the scurry of squirrels up and down the trunk. Most importantly to me, though, the leaves were just mesmerizing.

            I went on a run with my dad once at Judge Morris Estate in White Clay Creek State Park. It was closer to Summer than Autumn, but the strong smells of the woods we were in still captivated him. He had asked me “What is this really organic smell? It is times like these when I really love being outside because when I smell something like that, I really know everything is in balance”. I tripped on a root when he said this to me. My dad is an electrician, he was always in his office when I was a kid, and loved his newspaper and coffee. I had no idea he had this affection and knowledge for the place I also felt most at home. I tried my best to explain to him how the log that was down 100 feet back will be left their by the maintenance crew because they do not remove anything not causing a disturbance, and with time, that wood is going to be broken down by insects and fungi and join the leaf litter on the floor of these woods and be given right back to the Earth to feed another tree until it also falls down and goes through the same process. At the time I had not known, but now after reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, I really do see the world as an interacting circle, with reciprocity guiding all actions by flora, fauna, and occasionally, mankind.

            Whenever I hear a bird up in the trees, making a call to another bird for whatever reason, I always have a hard time finding them. I have never really had an interest for birds, and thought they all were just the same: beaks, feathers, and weird talon feet. Why would anybody pay attention to something so boring? Unfortunately, I still really have a hard time finding them in the trees, and would not enjoy the Ornithology class offered for my minor more than the Mammalogy one I am in now, but I at least have learned about enough different birds and their calls and the different nests they make to think much higher of them and appreciate them in the woods a little more. The squirrels that are taking over my attention, though, absolutely blow my mind. In my mammalogy class, I have learned to identify 17 squirrels, chipmunks, and ground squirrels. They are all native to North America, and I know that we have the Northern Flying squirrel around here. Yet, the only one I ever see is Sciurus carolinensis, the Eastern Gray Squirrel. When I hear their weird chirps, or hear their claws scraping up and down a Tulip Poplar, I love to see their tail whip back and forth as they fly up and down the tree in a crazy zig-zag pattern, and scurry like a robot across the ground. I one time saw a squirrel frozen on a tree branch, with its tail just making the most absurd movements. Immediately, another squirrel had showed up to meet the first, and I had witnessed some crazy communication going on, that only another squirrel would have gotten.

            I talked a little bit in my journal last week about how much I love the colors of Autumn. After reading the “Asters and Goldenrods” essay from Braiding Sweetgrass, I feel the admiration even more. This essay was my favorite so far, and I have most of the pages marked for passages I really enjoyed. This essay is about when she goes to college for Botany, and when asked why she wanted to major in Botany, she answered because she “wanted to learn about why asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together” (Kimmerer 39). This is not exactly the same thing about why all the trees in White Clay’s fall colors look so beautiful together, but walking down the trail, I could not take my eyes off the canopy. The reds and the oranges in particular look like no color I had ever seen produced by nature. When next to each other and blending in to one landscape, the plumes of each color grouped in a bunch of leaves makes a sort of “fire” effect on my eyes, and I have always stared at fires for hours at bonfires. Just like our eyes enjoy the purple of asters and the bright yellow of goldenrod next to each other, I think we all have an eye for the reds, oranges, and yellows that are not always included in landscapes, or even clothes and branding and anything else with patterns. Needless to say, Autumn is my favorite season, and there is no changing my mind.