It’s fall for certain. That sunlight slant. The trees looking as if they’ve been misted with yellow paint. Those squash leaves wearing a funereal shade of pale ocher, as if trying on make-up for a Halloween costume.
The only spot of color are the courageous dahlias, wispy asters, and stubborn cape fuchsia that refuses to shrivel; our only purpose in life now is to feed the Anna’s hummingbirds. (One of them buzzed me as I write this) When the real cold comes, long about November, maybe, the cape fuchsia will vanish into the earth. There may remain above ground a tidy bolt of sea-green leaves hugging the soil. (How cold will it get this coming winter of warming seas and shy rain?)
The hummer I mentioned above is keeping a careful eye on the honeysuckle. This plant—tough and hardy—did its time in a pot for an entire season until the spot I had in
mind for it became available. Despite its deprivation, it bloomed, and the Anna’s’ visited it regularly. A month ago I put it into the ground; the blooms withered. It sat in meditative suspension doing nothing and at least one Anna’s who lingered after nesting season was over checked it regularly. Last week it woke up, took a deep breath, and produced a fat bud on its new growth. In a week or so, there will be a flower for the Anna’s.
Starlings are rehearsing their choral works. In fall they begin to roost, crowding into the crowns of cottonwoods and Doug firs, yodeling, piping, skirling; mimicking red tailed hawks, jays, owls, chickadees and fox sparrows. All winter we will hear their symphonies. This of all things makes me think of winter.
A night crickets take over: percussionists. Rasps, whistles, sticks, clappers in a steady rhythm as precise as Ringo, as hypnotic as an aboriginal didgeridoo. By February, the raspers will be long gone—then the Oregon tree frogs take over.
Some time after dark, when human noises (automobiles, garage chop saws, playing children, roofers) fade, the frogs of Bonneville Power start their song. Their whistling, throbbing reeds synchronize the tempo; you can tap your feet to it, if you listen long enough. (They are named the Bonneville Power Frog Ensemble because they breed in the wetland below freakishly tall power lines; keeping the right-of-way clear of trees, the utility inadvertently—I assume—created a unique little habitat for the frogs to get business done.)
As I write, the hummer has buzzed me again, then arrows off to one of the dahlias, and then into the few bean blossoms left on the trellis. It also visits the borage. The cape fuchsia still considers its tiny trumpet-like, salmon-colored blossoms the best hummer fodder around.
The fox sparrow and partner are back; they will over-winter here—I like to think they dropped down to this location from the colder north. I have no doubt the birds trade homes like humans do, exchanging key codes and directions on a migrating bird-only web. California jays scrabble in the cherry trees looking for bugs and grubs, working fast with no care to furtiveness. They also splash all the water out of my bird bath, necessitating frequent refillings.
The odd leaf flutters down, more now when the breeze says to. Sunflowers sway in their tatters (ripped by goldfinches looking for bugs), seeds rapidly going down the gullets of chickadees. I look over the lush green of everything here and can’t imagine the wintry diminishment. Not to worry, though, because life, upon close inspection, is everywhere in winter. Soon the juncoes will arrive to mob our compost pile and rake any open soil for hibernating beetles. Eurasian collared doves will set down on the bird bath for a quick drink. Canadian geese will be on the move from lake to pond to river, fattening up on grass. And the ducks of winter will return, widgeons, mergansers, Harlequins. (Mallards will gather in the tiny Eighth Street canal, a sleepy waterway coursing along several blocks until it dives under city tarmac to empty who-knows-where.)
Yes, the Equinox has quietly passed, but summer lingers. Here we go round again.