Monday, October 5, 2020

Autumn Hiking 2020


By Beth Sullivan

It has been quite a year. Even the way the plants and trees are responding to the weather is a bit off. The drought has impacted and stressed most plants. A cold snap with localized frosts also set the color changes into motion a bit early.  One constant: it is beautiful out now.  Surely every season has its fans. Each one can be considered perfect for some reason, an excuse for being out on a trail.   I would guess though, that this time of year probably is the top vote-getter for a lot of reasons.

Some times a trail opens up a view that is stunning in late afternoon light. From Knox Preserve.


You can still be outdoors

We have all tried to be outdoors as much as possible over the last months, but the summer heat was a bit daunting for strenuous work or hiking. Finally the air has cleared of the oppressive humidity.  It’s actually been enjoyable to pull on a fleece in the morning, and more enjoyable to take it off in the afternoon warmth.   We can happily don hiking boots that give us good footing to get out on rougher trails and put away the flip flops.

There is a clarity of color we haven’t seen for months. The blue of the sky is a perfect complement for the gold-hued leaves, and the perfect match for the Blue Jays acting like gangs of rowdy teens blasting noisily through the trees. 

Because the leaves have begun falling already, the density of the green is lessened.  There is more space in the woodland view, and those spaces are filled with sunlight.  Some people complain that the “deep dark woods” of summer can feel too close, claustrophobic.    I never feel that, but I do understand, and now that there is more light and an airy feeling, those folks can feel more comfortable with a longer view.  While it is not as stark and open as it will be in another month, we can now see some of the more hidden elements that summer covered up:  rocky outcrops covered in green moss, stone walls running through woodlands, skeletal trees that have not survived the last several years of stress and drought,  and bird and insect nests high in the bare trees. We can walk dry stream beds in many places like another trail.  This gives the opportunity to look for footprints of wild things searching for moisture and edibles under rocks.

But there are some things to be wary of.   Lest you become distracted by the beauty of an open field of gorgeous grasses and wildflowers, and decide to wander in for a closer look, remember that the ticks have re-emerged now and seem to be more abundant than in previous months. 

Heavy use on the trails results in more roots exposed. Look at the ground as you walk.

The bare trees create their own beautiful views. Just look up. From Hoffman Preserve.

The Woodlot glows with clear yellow in the understory of spicebush as well as the canopy.


Changes in the woods

In the woods, the leaves are already falling, and they can obscure rocks and roots that may be an accident waiting to happen.  On trails that are not heavily traveled, the trail itself may be hard to discern, so keep your eyes out for the blazes.  Cool and frosty mornings leave rocks slippery, and remember the rocks can stay moist or icy even after the rest of the ground has warmed up. You know the warning about bridges freeze before roads - that is true in the woods as well. Wooden bridges can be slippery when damp, so please be careful.

Really cherish every little bit of this season. I know I feel hyper-vigilant, seeing things with new eyes and remembering details.  This often occurs before winter sends me indoors, but this year it seems to be more important to gather in all the goodness that nature has to offer. I gather strength from nature. We get vitamin D from the sun. Exercise improves our health and mood. Our good mood improves our immune system and settles our hearts and minds. It’s all related.  

Don’t think of hibernating this winter, I know I have, but invest in some warmer clothes, some good boots, and a hiking stick. Make a list of the places you hike now so you can revisit with new eyes in the next season.  Join us for the Great Avalonia Trail Trek. Learn more here.  

 Avalonia is your local land trust. We are stewards of the land for the habitats, but also for your well-being and peace of mind.   Please join us.


Autumn exposes things we may have wished we had known about earlier.

Even a new wooden bridge can be slippery when wet, but the dry stream bed is great to explore. From Paffard Woods Preserve.

With leaves thinning out, new details are revealed. From Preston Nature Preserve.

Wherever you walk this fall, take the time to love a tree.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan

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