Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

November 5, 1922. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 58(6): 3-W.

Present Fall Delightful But Comfortably Queer

By Sandy Griswold.

While the present autumn season is proving one of the most charming and delightful that I can recall for many long years, it is altogether, and at the same time, one of the most inexplicable that I have ever experienced.

In the first place, almost uninterruptedly since the summer began to sag into the lap of fall, the weather has been incomparably rare, redundant as it has been in the witcheries of all the concomitants of perfect weather. Even the mildest of frosts were tardy, and the foliage on the trees hung on with a courage that was indomitable, and when it did go it went almost completely in a single windy night, and that was only during the middle of the last week of October.

The evening previous all our woodlands were one magnificent rammage of golden greens and still as luxuriant as in July, and the next morning the trees, from the sturdiest of monarchs to the tiniest of saplings, were stripped naked as in midwinter, and yet a soft serenity, like a blanket, lay over the entire landscape and still there were no precursors of winter.

Lovely as the autumn period has been, the foliage of park and wood has not been conspicuous for its brilliant colors, a soft, soothing golden hue predominating everywhere.

This is to be accounted for probably by the action of the frost, slight as it has been, which sometimes occurs before the leaves of the trees have passed through their successive stages and destroys a great deal of the brilliant beauty of autumn; it makes the leaves wither before they are ripe and casts a sombre hue over the scenery that no subsequent golden days can remove. But when the foliage dies from the cutting of the tissues of life, the changes of colors have so gently and slowly passed through the various tints from green to yellow, to golden, to deep golden, to crimson, to scarlet, to brown, that it is sometimes hard to decide whether spring or fall, whether young and joyous life or the beautiful serenity of death is more charming. If one has an understanding of the philosophy of the changes which the leaves undergo, one will feel a new interest in the change of color; and even the dry skeletons of the leaves, which the blasts of autumn strew around, will present material for reflections and teach a lesson emblematical of human mortality. There is a great difference in the period of the maturity of leaves of our various species of trees.

In general trees which put forth their leaves earliest in the spring begin to lose them earliest in the fall, though this is not always the case. Some leaves fall more readily than others, owing to the texture of the petiole. The petiole of the leaves, as the cottonwood and poplar, are flattened and adhere less firmly to the branches; hence they tremble at every breath of the wind and fall much easier than those of which the petioles have a cylindrical form.

A single night's frost is sometimes enough to loosen those leaves which do not adhere firmly to the branches, and one will frequently find that a slight morning breeze will sweep every tree totally of its foliage and blow them to the ground completely robbed of all life.

"At every gust the dead leaves fall."

However, it was not the sudden decline of our foliage, or the lack of lustrous color, that has made the present autumn an unprecedentedly queer one, but the equally as sudden disappearance of all our summer birds. Like the leaves tumbling in a single night; so the birds vamoosed equally as thoroughly in a similar period. Even the robins only marshalled forces for the big pilgrimage south for a few days, instead of as usual, for weeks, and one soft, muggy night, unlikely as it was for the starting on such a long and perilous voyage, they went high up in the air, and the next morning they were gone. That was way back in mid-October, and to this day since, out in that favorite haunt of theirs - Turner park - I have not seen a single redbreast nor heard a single chirp. And even the bluejays are minus, also have gone, or they are in hiding, for not a single jay has visited my window sill for a fortnight now, and they have fed there in numbers all summer, and I haven't heard a single jangling squawk out of one anywhere in the vicinity, either.

Of course, all of the summer warblers have gone long since and the winter birds, that came down earlier this fall than for years past, during the dying days of September - the pine finches, red and white breasted nuthatches, downy and hairy woodpecker, song and tree sparrows, gold finches, siskins, juncoes, and what not, are also conspicuous for their absence only. But I am lengthening this out too elaborately, and must postpone further discussion of the phenomena until another Sunday.

The cause is, no doubt, found in the decay of the forest leaves. ALl of the phenomena seem to indicate this. Vegetable decay, we are told, is but a species of slow combustion; and the same chemical changes are brought about, whether the process of combustion is a rapid or a tardy one. This will account for the slight haziness of the atmosphere and the warm air of our Indian summer. As the forests are being cleared away, the partial or entire failure of Indian summer must come about.

All the fruition of the year seems to gather itself up in this charming period, as much so here, in our own fair Nebraska, as anywhere in the world. Now the corn is cut and shocked, and in many instances the ears lie in great heaps in farmyards or the fields, interspersed with golden pumpkins; the cider mills are busy in the orchards; the sound of the thresher resounds from the big brans, the cheerful "whee-oh-he, whee-oh-ee" of Bob White, running ahead of his family, all as big as himself, comes from thicket and hillside, the thistledown, "the ghost of flowers," floats lightly through the narrow valleys, the crack of the sportsman's gun sounds from woodland and marsh, and then the stillness settles over all again.

Indian summer out here, is the breathing speel of the year. The forces of nature that have brought to maturity the promise of spring, seem to be lying in calm restfulness after their labors. There is an unwonted dreaminess, a languor of spirit in keeping with the soft haziness of the atmosphere that lies upon the landscape. It is a time for reflection and thoughtfulness. What man can sit down in this calm season, among the sights and sounds of the outdoor, and note experience a feeling of gratitude that he is in existence? It fills the mind with poetry, a glance off toward the bluffs, indistinct in the cerulean haze, the wide prairies a sea of molten gold; fleece-specked skies, soothing winds, they all breathe a finer theology than emanates from crypt or pulpit.

For all its balmy airs, it bright skies, its softened landscape, the Indian summer is not a period of exhilaration. It arouses none of the feelings of bouyance that characterize the month of May and early June. Then all nature is full of promise. Bud and blossom and leaf, the purling of brooks and the songs of birds, all join in a sursum corde, to which the heart cheerfully responds.

But Indian summer has a rather depressing influence upon the mind. It is suggestive of somber reflections as we walk among the fallen leaves and the dry grasses, and feel that the end of the year is near at hand. The flight of time is a common theme of the preacher and the novelist and the recurrence of stated periods is always impressive.

  • "When the groves
  • In fleeting colors wrote their own decay,
  • And leaves fell eddying on the sharpened blast
  • That sang their dirge; when o'er their rustling bed
  • The red deer sprang, or fled the shrill-voiced quail,
  • Heavy of wing and fearful; when, with heart
  • Foreboding or depress'd, the white man mark'd
  • The signs of coming winter, then began
  • The Indian's joyous season. Then the haze,
  • Soft and illusive as a fairy dream,
  • Lapp'd all the landscape in is silvery fold."