The fog didn’t burn off this morning until after 11:00, prolonging the dim, early morning light for hours. At times, the sun would break through for a few minutes, only to disappear again when more fog billowed up from the valley. I went for a slow ramble on an empty stomach, which probably sounds like a lot less fun than it was. Walking through the woods, I kept to the moss as much as possible, thrice surprising deer at close range where they had bedded down among the laurel and huckleberries. They leapt to their feet and went crashing off into the fog.
At first light, I’d listened to the wicka-wicka-wicka calls of migrant wood thrushes, interwoven with the back-and-forth hooting of great-horned owls a half-mile away. The resident thrushes stopped singing at the end of the first week of August, and presumably headed south shortly thereafter. Since then, our mountain has provided temporary shelter for who knows how many hundreds or thousands more wood thrushes from points farther north. They fly all night, touch down around dawn and forage all morning, fueling up for the next stage of their epic journey. Now, around nine o’clock, I spot one flitting about in a black gum sapling beside the trail, presumably searching for the high-calorie berries signaled by the already-turned, bright orange leaves.
Out in the field, the cloying odor of goldenrod mingles with the pungent stench of cow manure wafting up from some freshly sprayed field in Sinking Valley. The resulting mixture actually isn’t bad. I once heard a radio interview with an inventor of perfumes, who explained that a successful scent had to have something really putrid in the mix in order to achieve a proper balance. “A bit of skunk can give just the right note of excitement,” she said.
A monarch butterfly appears out of the fog, already flying at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It flaps and glides low over the goldenrod, landing every fifty feet or so. I set off in pursuit of it, which isn’t too big a challenge: its slow, meandering course is a good fit with my own pace. But it’s going to take us a while to get to Mexico.