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Sliding into Fall

This is a delightful time of year, this slow slide from simmering summer into amiable autumn.

There’s nothing like the cool crispness of a fall morning to put renewed vigor into your step. I think this is an evolutionary adaptation. Chilly nights are Nature’s way of reminding us that the nasty season whose moniker starts with a “w” — I refuse to name it here — is on its way and that we’d better start preparing.

Such preparations include hoarding corn. At least that’s what our local squirrels are doing, scurrying hither and yon, carrying ears of corn that weigh as much as the thieving little varmints themselves. This would be similar to a human carting off a side of beef and burying it in some random spot in the lawn.

Squirrels must have memory problems because they often forget where they’ve squirreled away their bounty. Each spring, corn will sprout in areas where I know for certain that corn was never planted. At least not by me.

The changing seasons brings a shift in the way the outdoors smells. These days when I take our dog, Bella, for a walk, we notice that the aroma landscape is changing along with our surroundings.

There is a particular set of characteristics that make up the fragrance of ripening corn. It’s musty and earthy, with just a tiny background note of dried corn sweat. It’s like a men’s locker room except that the smell isn’t so powerful that it puts you in danger of passing out.

We had another “if only” growing season. “If only we could get a little shot of rain!” we would mutter or, “If only that stupid raincloud would have hung together instead of petering out just when it got to our place!”

Having unlimited access to a weather radar feed can be distressing. Back in the old days we would read the clouds as they approached and hazard a guess as to what would transpire regarding precipitation. You might get the vague sense that the weather gods were toying with you, but you had no proof.

Nowadays, you can log onto a weather radar site and watch in real time as those promising rainclouds split in half just as they arrive at your place. You can see them reform minutes later and shower areas east of you with a bounty of rainwater. Weather radar is the leading cause of precipitation envy.

We have had “if only” growing seasons that were on the other side of the coin. “If only it would stop raining!” we would exclaim. “It’s so wet that our corn fields have been taken over by gangs of malicious mallards!”

Seeing the crops grow and mature during my walks is among life’s greatest pleasures. I have watched the corn and the soybean seedlings emerge timidly from the soil, sending up tiny green periscopes to see if the world above is safe.

It isn’t of course, but the plants, ever the optimists, push upwards anyway. They are much like fans of a losing sports team. “Just wait until next year!” is the cry of corn and soybeans who have had a less than stellar growing season.

The trees are beginning to don their autumn wardrobe, bursts of gold and ruby against a sapphire sky. Their leaves will soon tumble to the ground in a shower of colorful crunchiness.

The custom of raking and burning leaves has fallen by the wayside. Thank goodness! We have been afflicted by enough smoke already due to this summer’s wildfires. There were days when it was so smoky outdoors that a person could have made bacon by simply hanging a chunk of salted pork on the clothesline.

Better to let the leaves stay where they fall and decompose and add organic matter to the soil as Nature intended. It’s a mere coincidence that taking this position means that I will get out of the cumbersome chore of raking and bagging leaves.

It was foggy on a recent morning when Bella and I went for our daily constitutional. The fog seemed to trap and amplify sounds and smells. Even though they were two miles away, I could hear a herd of cows lowing as clearly as if they were right beside us. The herd’s bull bellowed in the background like a bovine backup singer.

Even at walking speed, we could distinguish subtle shifts in the temperature and aromas. Here is the smell of roadside ragweed; there is the scent of ripening corn.

Bella and I detected a particular perfume and quickly increased our pace.

Because no matter what season it might be, nobody enjoys the odor of eau de skunk.

— Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at http://Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.

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