With most of the leaves down, the woods are filled once again with light.
Closer to the ground, blackberry canes are still in their autumnal glory, and under the oaks, the waxy leaves of the evergreen mountain laurel shine like they haven’t shone since April.
A native bee visits the last asters, gifted with the ability to raise her internal temperature well above the ambient chill, her thorax a yellow ember.
Porcupines are now visible from hundreds of feet away. Does the clearer view of the ground — or the bottom of a gorge — ever give them pause? Who can say? They move so slowly, most of their life is spent in pause mode.
Now the milkweed pods split in earnest and spill their clouds of down into the wind. It makes good evolutionary sense to wait until most of the leaves are off the trees and the grasses and forbs are dying back: the seeds will be able to go so much farther.
Cliffs and boulders glow in the low sun, and it’s easy to forget what this season means for them, how freezing and thawing have shaped them, and how autumn and winter winds fill their crannies with leaves which will in time enable plants to gain a roothold.
It is the season of shining antlers, rubbed clean and honed with the help of hapless saplings.
The reservoir shimmers in the light breeze. As we draw closer, we can distinguish the shallow, diamond-shaped waves interlocking like the scales of a fish. We have walked six and a half miles on a grade built for trains, descending the highest escarpment in the state so gradually we were hardly conscious of the descent.