It’s dark in the mornings.
The songbirds have stopped singing, replaced a rhythmic buzz from locusts and cicadas. Periodically, an abrasive ratchet sound pierces the hum. At dusk, the volume increases and resembles the sound of distant South African vuvuzelas at a soccer game.
On my morning walks, a few robins appear on the walkways and one or two cardinals fly between the bushes…but they have lost their voices. The cacophonous honking of Canada geese offers the only respite from the snare drum droning.
Autumn is coming.
Many love autumn. They enjoy the crisp morning air, a respite from the humid heat of the summer. They enjoy the cool nights, where windows can be opened, and cool breezes sift through. They enjoy the crunchy foods, the warm colors, and the spicy flavors.
But the florae and faunae see it differently. They don’t live the protected lives that we do.
The indolent squirrels, who spent their summer taunting my dogs or chasing each other, are doing serious work now. The tall-eared flea-bitten brown/gray mounds in the grass have grown. No more cute baby bunnies hopping across my path. They are savvy now. They recognize leashed dogs as an annoyance rather than a threat. They are too busy nibbling the clover, bulking up for the harsh winter ahead. By the end of my walk, most will have hopped away; their bright white tails bobbing.
I doubt that wildlife savors these autumn days. Tougher times are coming, bone chilling cold and fewer resources. They have no time to waste.
Many of the migratory birds have already begun their sojourn to warmer climes. Most robins remain, but I don’t hear many melodies. There is little reason for songbirds to sing now. Most scientists believe that their songs are serenades to the ladies. By now, the lucky ones have found their mates, shared parenting duties, and watched the hatchlings fly away. It is time to bulk up for the long migrations. For those who remain, wrens, chickadees, cardinals, finches, bluebirds, sparrows, and mockingbirds, preparations for the harsh months ahead are underway. They are forming large packs; building up their body weight and scouting for locations where there will be food.
Most robins form nomadic flocks that rest on fruit-laden trees and shrubs. When ground thaws in spring, their diet will change to earthworms. And we will see them as the harbinger of spring.
The florae are busy as well. Annuals are creating seeds, so that their genes will remain. Many bushes shed their leaves, some trees drop their sap, and perennials wither away with only their root and dead stalks remaining.
Soon we will see the spectacular murmurations of autumn. Soft cardigans and light jackets will shield us from the cool weather. When it gets colder, outer gear will be puffier and larger, to seal our body heat.
We have added a slight barrier between us and nature that has a psychological impact on me. Inexplicably I feel as though I no longer share in the rhythm of nature.
And soon, I will join my feathered friends and say goodbye to the warm, lazy rivers. I will replace the bounteous florae and faunae with salty breezes and palm trees. The warm salt air will soothe my lungs.
But there are no songbirds in Key West, only a few shorebirds crying into the vast blue sky. In this arid and salty world an endlessly energetic ocean replaces the omnipresent wetlands, the sweet melodies, the slow meandering waterways.
For now, I sadly watch the silent preparations in nature. They are no longer living in the moment.
Winter is coming.
In the Game of Thrones, that expression meant that House Stark should always be prepared, because something would happen. Winter is coming.
Nature has always known that.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.