September 16, 2012

Autumn changes landscape, activities


---- — Is it fall yet? Not officially. We mark the autumnal equinox in this hemisphere at 10:49 a.m. on Sept. 22.

There will likely not be dancing in the streets, partly because autumn will almost seem like an afterthought by that time.

I’ve already seen home and property decorations reflecting the new season. Fences have been adorned with dried cornstalks. Pumpkin fields are monochromatic orange canvasses. Tall corn mazes are attracting weekend fun seekers. Apple picking has been ongoing for some time.

Leaves on the trees along our beloved Saranac River bank are not only well ahead of the usual changing dates, but high winds over the past couple weeks have whipped them off the trees in great numbers.

The weather has been such an oddball in 2012, we hardly know what to expect. Summer was one of the warmest and driest in modern history. When it finally rained, it was reminiscent of Bill Cosby’s iconic comedy routine in which God asks Noah, “How long can you tread water?”

This summer, the Saranac River has been as low as I’ve ever seen it. The kayakers and canoeists have been hard put to get past our house without having to use their paddles as poles to go over the exposed stones. I heard loud scrapes that could mean big damage to some expensive gear, accompanied by profanity where there should have been singing.

I love fall. I love all the seasons. I have no desire to move to Florida in winter. Kaye is far less enamored with cold and snow than I, but who among us can fault the mild winter of 2011-12?

I haven’t checked the fuzz on the caterpillars yet, but my friend and honey of a man Dick Crawford tells me the hornets and wasps made their nests close to the ground this year, and that supposedly portends a hard winter coming. I’ll keep my snow shovels waxed, and the roof-rake and extensions will be handy.

I’m not looking forward to an early frost. The woodchucks and rabbits chewed away all my vegetable plants, except the tomatoes and cucumbers, and both of those thrived. Kaye and I have been eating all of those we can stuff into our faces. No frost, please. I’m writing this on Sept. 10, and forecasters mentioned something about 32-degree temperatures in the higher elevations tonight. Say it ain’t so!

Meanwhile, let’s enjoy whatever remains of summer and all of the coming autumn season. That brings me to the question: Where did the silent “N” in autumn come from? I suppose it originated in the Latin word autumnus and just hung around after it came to us, thanks to a guy named Chaucer in the 14th Century.

Why do we call it fall? Think about it. Leaves fall. Simple as that.

Leaves change color and fall only in places on Earth where there are deciduous trees, and they are certainly plentiful right here in our backyards. The word equinox comes from the Latin words for “equal night,” but you don’t have to wait until Sept. 22 to enjoy what we all love about fall — that nip in the night air; yellows, red and orange leaves; and diving into the giant piles of them on the lawn, like we did as youngsters. That’s what fall means to me.

My favorite song from this time of year? Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics in the late 1940s, and Jo Stafford sang it best: “Autumn Leaves.”

I am a huge Carl Sandburg fan, and I own a unique recording he made while singing for friends in a New York studio late in his life. It’s a bit too profane to play in polite company. But his poem “Autumn Movement” has a wonderful line: “The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes.”

How do I really know fall is not quite here yet? I haven’t smelled any wood-stove smoke in Morrisonville. That will happen sooner than we might like.

Enjoy those beautiful leaves before they’re torn full of holes.

Have a great day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or e-mail him at