Autumn’s ‘after party’

By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

Thursday is Thanksgiving. I can hardly wait! Turkey Day. The Big Feast. Family, friends, food, fun. Oh, boy! I can smell that roasting bird already!

Of course smack after that comes December and winter and the usual four weeks of rushing about amid all the pre-Christmas madness. Egads! How did another year pass so quickly?

What I don’t understand is how all this managed to sneak up on me … again!

As much as I enjoy the holidays themselves, I generally find myself wading through each daily dose of schedules and shopping and hoopla, vacillating between anticipation and dread. So I’ve learned to cope. Whenever I feel my sanity/stress meter tipping too far one way or the other, I readjust my perspective with an outdoor escape—a brief but temporarily-palliative getaway which essentially comes in three predictable forms.

I might go fishing — fly rodding for trout up on the Mad River; tailwater sauger along the Ohio; crappie around the riprapped shoreline lakes such as Deer Creek, Paint Creek or Caesar Creek; or—providing the weather had been on the mild side and I’m feeling lucky — maybe try for a smallmouth or two near my home on the Stillwater. I don’t have to actually catch a fish for such outings to work their natural healing, but I do like to think I’m doing more than fruitlessly casting.

If my therapy option is hunting, that will typically be for cottontails in a local weedfield. Unless I can spare a full day — or, even better, a day plus an evening to allow for and overnight campout — at which point I head for the southeastern hills in pursuit of the wily ruffed grouse. Although, as Ohio’s big forests continue to mature, partridge are becoming increasingly scarcer — a fact which my aging knees and diminished stamina do nothing to offset.

Unfortunately, the sad fact is most of the above options require more free time than I can usually spare. Even a brief foray on the Stillwater near my riverside cottage eats up a couple of hours.

Therefore, most of my “readjustment” escapes take the form of impromptu rambles along a favorite nearby trail. Something I can do on the spur of the moment, between shopping trips, grocery runs, and those thousand-and-one chores and appointments which always seem to crop up this time of year. Rambles are outings I can fit to any available hole in my schedule.

The upside is that this is a wonderful time of year to be outdoors. In my personal ranking of months, November comes right after April and May as my third favorite. Yes, I’d place it before October and all the colored leaves.

Sure, November can be cold and windy and dark — sometimes with rain or sleet or even snow. Summer’s birds are gone. Fields are sere. Leaves are down, strewn in brown heaps underfoot. It’s a tattered, cluttered, unkept, and starkly open landscape, with possibly moody weather.

I love it! Maybe such an attitude is rooted in the molecular mystery of DNA — a swirl amid my Celtic blood, left over from some brooding Druidic ancestor whose fondness for scared groves, mistletoe, and the magic power of somber evergreen hemlocks somehow carried down all these years. However this fondness originated, the fact remains this is truly a fine of the year to be afield.

In Hollywood and throughout the entertainment industry, following a stage play’s opening, a film’s premier, or a musical act’s debut, all the folks involved — from star performers to stagehands and roadies — gather for an “after party.”

The same notion applies here. To my way of thinking, we’ve entered a period which constitutes the seasonal version of an after party.

How so? Well, from now until December 21, regardless of appearance and weather, it’s still officially autumn. A fact we often forget. Yet autumn’s two halves are wonderfully different — more fundamentally contrasting, I think, than those of any other season. They really seem more like separate seasons. And perhaps that’s why we regularly overlook—and occasionally disparage — this autumnal period. We expect the season’s latter half to be like its first, and when it isn’t, disappointment breeds disrespect.

  1. But if we get outside, take a ramble, and open our hearts and minds along with our eyes, we’ll discover that — even now — wonder and beauty abound. In the sheer openness of a revealed landscape, where winds sing in unfetterd joy. Or a dramatic clabbered sky, which sometimes fills with an undulating skein of calling geese. In a beloved river whose ever-flowing ribbon reflects the burnished hue of old pewter. And the dazzling jewel of a male cardinal, glowing scarlet, perched on a bankside cedar bough.

Early-autumn’s technicolored leaf show and generally clement days are over. Subtleties now rule; you have to look close and pay attention. And heed the changeable weather. But that’s just the ticket to attend nature’s after party—this special annual time to celebrate the year that’s passed and the transition now taking place.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at