The shining season

Bell Gap Rail Trail hikers

With most of the leaves down, the woods are filled once again with light.

autumnal blackberry patch

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.

native bee on asters

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.

Bell Gap porcupine

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.

view of Bellwood reservoir and Brush Mountain

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.

pitted cliff

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.

examining an anter-torn striped maple

It is the season of shining antlers, rubbed clean and honed with the help of hapless saplings.

Bellwood reservoir

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.

For more photos of the hike, see my photoset on Flickr, or view the photo gallery at the Juniata Valley Audubon Society‘s Facebook page.

22 Replies to “The shining season”

  1. Beautiful, just beautiful. I can understand why you love it on your mountain. Here on the wet coast (NOT a typo) November means monsoons alternating with some sunny days which are appreciated even more in their rarity.

    1. Ah. Well, sometimes November can be pretty rainy here, too, but this one happens to be starting with a projected week of sunny weather, leading me to focus on what I most love about winter: the low, unimpeded light.

  2. Beautiful pictures. Living down here at the southern tip of Florida, I rely on y’all in the upper 48 to remind me of the glories of autumn. Our autumnal glories are completely different here (like swimming in the ocean on Halloween morning).

    1. Oh, that sounds just awful. Don’t know how you endure it! I’m sure you’ll be eating your heart out if I tell you it was 24F/-5C this morning. :) Thanks for commenting.

  3. It was a pleasure to experience the hike in your words and pictures. Here the going back of clocks has stolen an hour from the ends of the days to gain more light at the start of them. Sitting in the new first-floor sitting-room I’m alarmed to see notice that at 5:30 pm it’s stygian outside, and moreover the wind is howling in a way to have warmed the cockles of M R James’ heart! Now it REALLY feels like a Welsh Autumn!

    1. Hmm, that does sound very properly Welsh as I imagine such things. Here, we return to standard time next weekend (which I resent — I think we should make daylight time standard year-round and the hell with switching).

  4. Wow, thanks for taking us along, Dave. Beautiful photos – the first one is my favorite. I’m confused about the landscape from the summit – what’s that long straight ridge on the horizon, when the mountains in the foreground and middle ground look so rounded?

    1. That’s the ridge I live on: the westernmost ridge in the folded Appalachians. We were descending the Allegheny Front. Good observation! (The first photo was my favorite, too. After four years, I am finally beginning to learn how to use my camera. That’s what happens when you never take the time to RTFM!)

  5. Gorgeous photos! I love the first one, too (what exactly did you do? I generally end up setting my camera to automatic because it usually does a better job of figuring out the best settings than I do – but sometimes not). I love milkweed!! I’ll have to get out in the woods again soon – they should be around in November.

    1. Thanks! I had relied on the automatic settings for photometry, because I didn’t know what that was, but many of these pictures, including that one, wouldn’t have turned out as well if I hadn’t finally figured out last week that “average” is a much better setting than the default “spot.” Aside from that, the clear focus on a telephoto shot attests to the steadiness of my grip, the result of decades of clean living. Or just blind luck.

    1. Thanks, James. I couldn’t figure out why everyone else was just walking past those blackberries — I had to stop and look (whence the first photo of everyone disappearing around the bend).

  6. your photos of a region i’ve only experienced via textbooks and historical narratives help me feel as though i was there on that hike. i’ve always wanted to experience your “neck of the woods”.

    really like the shot with the western ridge in the background, and the river valley below.

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