By: Sean Flemming
The temperature flexes between sultry and crisp as the year sheds summer like a snake pouring out of its old skin. The fields mottle—half green and half yellow as the corn dries and begins rattling in the wind. In small towns, the silos process sweet corn. Trucks stacked with green cobs line up and dump their harvests onto conveyor belts that shuttle them into buildings where blades shred the husks and sever the kernels.
Rivers that gushed so forcefully in the spring they pulled entire trees and fence-lines into their hungry gullets now trickle between the sand bars they once pummeled, or have disappeared entirely leaving scoured, skeletal beds. Power is fickle in nature.
Autumn is infused with ritual. Whether we believe in them or not, the ancient spirits, gods and superstitions hover in the land and our psyches. We look forward to Halloween, to Oktoberfest, to Thanksgiving—festivities to cope with a land growing darker and deader. We look forward to deer-camp and duck-blinds and wandering the rows of orchards with friends or pulling in bucket after bucket of tomatoes from the garden. It is a time when we simultaneously recollect our pasts and practice old traditions and prepare for next year. For many in the Conservation Corps, this is a time to decide whether to pursue a second term, to apply for a crew leader position, or to move on, to go back to school, to take a risk and move somewhere new.
Spring's explosion into summer expires. Life's small deaths abound as plants wither and die. But due to nature's cyclical perfection, the fruits of death—the seeds and berries and nuts—inspire comical action amongst the squirrels, coons and groundhogs constantly thieving each others' stashes. The birds simply leave; their exit fills the skies with beautiful patterns and beautiful sounds, including the distant pounding of shotguns on hidden sloughs.
Working outside, autumn's magic has expanded and often seizes me in a nostalgic bliss that verges on possession. I catch myself staring, thoughtless and wholly attuned to cedar waxwings scooping the last beetles off of shore, or to the subtlety of how a squirrel turns a crab apple in its mouth and takes a few bites before perking its ears and scanning a wood-line with nervous vigilance. Whatever the activity, it's important to get lost in autumn, and to insure that getting lost occurs outside.