Autumn has come to Margaret’s Woods: to the sawhorse and the stump, the tangled beds of hayscented fern and Japanese stiltgrass. The blood-colored Japanese barberry bushes are festooned with rows of scarlet berries and a scattering of fallen maple leaves impaled on their thorns. Feathered migrants learn the way to the best fruit from the early colors: wild gravevines are turning yellow, and the Virginia creepers are red flames against the pale trunks of white oaks. Hercules’-club trees are bowing under the weight of their monstrous purple heads, and their three-foot-long, triply-compound leaves fall nearly intact in the rush to bare their goods.
It’s a cool morning. A cranefly sits motionless on a blackberry leaf, too cold to fly. A pair of pileated woodpeckers, year-round residents too young to remember when this 100-acre deer-ravaged savanna was a mature forest, sun themselves at the top of an oak snag already dead when the loggers came through, one dry, beautiful autumn just like this. Their red crests blaze as they groom themselves, finding insect nourishment under their own black bark. This morning, a new autumn color — hunter’s orange — has entered the woods, and with luck, the first arrows will find their targets and water the parched ground with fresh blood.