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Archive for the ‘autumn’ Category

Male junco under the feeder

Male junco under the feeder

Autumn is officially here and winter on the way. I can tell because the juncos have returned. I saw them on our morning walk, white outer tail feathers flashing as they flew up from the ground to hide in the bushes and lower tree branches. They used to be called Oregon juncos, but now they are stuck with the duller-sounding name of dark-eyed juncos. More accurate, I suppose, as their range is much wider than just Oregon. Still, being a lifelong Oregonian, I preferred the earlier name.

Female junco eating seeds under the feeder

Female junco eating seeds

These sweet little birds spend the warmer half of the year farther north or up in the mountains. Sometimes when my husband and I hike on Mt. Hood in the summer, I hear their quiet little chips in the brush or see those flashing tail feathers as they flee our presence. Black/gray heads—depending upon whether they are male or female—and gray/brown bodies: the rest of them is pretty nondescript. But those tail feathers give them away every time.

Male dark-eyed junco in dogwood tree

Male junco in dogwood tree

Juncos are ground feeders. They hop about under our seed feeder, picking up what the other birds and squirrels knock out of the feeder, along with the seeds I purposely throw on the ground. They sleep in the bushes. Unlike some birds we get at the feeder, they get along well with each other and never cause any trouble. Such patient, considerate, and peaceful birds. We could use a few more juncos in this crazy world of ours.

Vine maple with bright autumn leaves

Vine maple in autumn

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dogwood leaves (1 of 1)Fall has arrived, and change is in the air. The heat of summer has passed, and rain has watered the parched ground. Today the sun is shining. October clouds have cleared away, and the sky is bright blue. An autumn breeze blows through my hair as I walk out to the garden to see what is left.daad bean leaves (1 of 1)

A handful of pole beans. Half a dozen over-ripe ears of corn. Some good-sized almost-ripe tomatoes, along with a generous number of cherry tomatoes—Sweet 100 and Sun Gold. But the bush beans are gone, and the prolific zucchini is dying back. The pumpkins and winter squash have been harvested, and their vines lie brown and shriveled across the dirt. The garden is fading, as it always does this time of year.

grapes (1 of 1)Yet around the garden, golden leaves waft down from the maples. The dogwood is gradually turning from green to red. Brightly-colored leaves stand out against the blue sky. Grape vines still carry batches of purple fruit. There is much beauty in this time of dying. And also much ugliness in this time of beauty.

yellow maple leaf (1 of 1)

 

For every golden leaf there is a brown, broken one. For every purple grape there is a rotten zucchini. For every blue sky, the remembrance of pouring rain—and more to come. I could look down and focus on the mud, the dead leaves, the empty garden, or I could instead focus on the colorful leaves, the fleeting blue of the sky, the delicious fruits of the season. What will my choice be?

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Sunrise through treeThe early morning sun lit up the fog, giving the yard an unearthly aura. I should get out there with my camera, I thought. But I was still eating breakfast, and the grass was wet, and I was feeling lazy. Still, that light was amazing. I finally roused myself from my chair.

red leavesShoes and jacket on, camera dangling from my neck, I headed outside—only to find the dawn even more spectacular that it had appeared through the window. Dew sparkled on green grass. Leaves were lit up like stained glass windows, as light shone through them. The sun, shining through a tree, shot rays of light in all directions, like heavenly beams in the fog. I snapped picture after picture, forgetting all about my damp feet.

And to think I almost missed it! How much beauty have I missed because I was too comfortable to leave my warm house? How many unique experiences have I let pass me by because I was too fearful to change my safe routine or too set in my ways to step outside the little boxes I created for myself? God gives us so many chances to find beauty, to learn, to grow. But sometimes we need to step outside before we can find them.autumn maple leaf

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Upper McCord Creek Falls

Upper McCord Creek Falls

Early autumn is a perfect time for hiking in the Pacific Northwest. The bugs have died down, the weather has cooled, but the sun is still shining. And thus my husband, Gary, and I headed out Tuesday to enjoy the outdoors. Looking through 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan, I noticed two short (2-3 mile) hikes in the Columbia Gorge, so close to each other that they were together in one entry. Wahclella Falls and Elowah Falls. Despite our proximity to the Columbia Gorge, we’d never hiked either trail. Time to check them out!Columbia Gorge

Elowah Falls, Columbia GorgeThe first one as we drove east through the Gorge (Oregon side) was Elowah Falls–with a bonus falls available (Upper McCord Creek) with a little extra uphill walking. The trail headed gently uphill, becoming a bit steeper on the Upper McCord part. It passed through shady forest, unfortunately close enough to hear the freeway sounds for much of the way, but finally heading back into the woods a bit. The McCord part opened up to a nice view of the Columbia River with Mt. Adams in the distance (I was thankful for the railing here, as the dropoff was steep.) before arriving at a nice, though rather small, waterfall. We explored a bit, then headed back toward Elowah Falls. As we neared the cascade, we could feel the temperature cool, until we came out in the rocky area below the falls, a fine place to rest and enjoy the view.

Elowah Falls hitting the rocks

Elowah Falls hitting the rocks

Elowah Falls itself tumbled down from the cliff like a long, feathery tail, its pattern constantly changing, fascinating to watch.

Wahclella Falls, Columbia Gorge

Wahclella Falls

We left Elowah Falls, deciding to drive the three miles or so to Wahclella Falls and see what it was like. We were glad we did. The Wahclella Falls trail began as a gentle stroll along lovely Tanner Creek. We watched a pair of dippers zipping from rock to rock in the stream, whistling merrily. Sunlight sparkled on the creek, but the path was shady most of the way, a good thing as the afternoon was warming up. The path climbed higher above the creek before dropping back down to the falls area. Which was beautiful. Wahclella Falls poured into a deep pool, which emptied into rambling Tanner Creek. We sat by the falls and ate our PBJ sandwiches, then wandered on–with many photo breaks along the way. Gary had to explore a little cave near the river–apparently it went back quite some ways, but wasn’t high enough for easy exploration. We meandered on through the rocky little valley, across the creek and back up to the main trail. It is a hike I certainly plan to return to–a little gem I am so glad we discovered.

Cave near Wahclella Falls

Cave near Wahclella Falls

Amazing that we can live in one area for so many years and yet miss out on nearby places of beauty. Why had we never thought to hike those trails before? It’s a reminder to me to watch for beauty all around, for even the familiar places we take for granted may be wondrous if we keep our eyes and hearts open.

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Cumulus clouds September.

As we edge toward autumn, change is in the air. The heat of summer slowly dies away, replaced by crisp, foggy mornings and cool breezes. Clouds roll in, sometimes huge, fluffy white mountains, other times layers of gray filled with rain.blackberry jelly and green beans

Leaves begin to turn color. We harvest the garden—plucking the last few ears of corn, a few fat cucumbers hiding under the leaves, red and golden cherry tomatoes, and, of course, zucchini, which is not yet ready to call it quits. Apples redden on the tree. The pantry shelves hold jars of beans, the freezer bags of corn. Blackberry jam and jelly await winter breakfasts. Our garden has done well.

Liberty applesA hush settles over the street, as children head off to school. I drink in the quiet and let it settle into my soul. September. Even the sound of it is soft and flowing, like the afternoon breeze as it rustles through the treetops. Like a treasure you hold, not in your hands, but in your heart.September sunset

And in the evening we stroll down the street as darkness falls earlier and the sun sets in a bright sky.

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deer fern frondsRecently I’ve hiked some gorgeous trails in British Columbia–trails with views of turquoise lakes and gleaming glaciers, trails that looked down on cities and rivers and out to distant mountains. I will likely post about some of these hikes soon. However, the other day I was hiking down a more ordinary path, one that wound through a pretty, but not spectacular, forest. There were no grand views to catch my eye, so I found myself noticing little things that I might otherwise have missed.Elderberry

moss patternThe bright red berries of the elderberry stood out against the browns and greens of the woods. In a damp area, fronds of deer fern formed a subtle pattern of light and dark. Other tiny ferns grew on tree trunks amid the moss. Farther on the yellowing needles of some unidentified conifer added color to the scene. Were they dying, or did they always turn yellow in the fall? Something to research, I guess.yellow needles

Odd types of moss grew on the ground just off the trail like tiny shooting stars all gathered together. And finally, small butterflies gathered on a wet stretch of the path, apparently sipping water from the tiny puddles. They flew up as my feet approached, landing on leaves, rocks, and even on me. Rusty orange wings on top, but brown underneath–when the butterfly closed its wings, it could easily be mistaken for a dead leaf. Ah, nature’s brilliance!

butterfly on rockThe grand views are wonderful, but the little things are just as important. It takes all these small organisms to make up the forest that reflects so majestically in a mountain lake. To God all are vital, just as each person–however ordinary and unknown–has a special place in God’s kingdom.

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Sunrise, 10-30-2013The dark gray haze of early morning is beginning to brighten, but the grass is still covered with frost.

“Time to go!” husband cheerfully cries. I look out the window and sigh.

The chill air makes me shiver as I step onto the porch.

“Didn’t we run later in the day last fall?” I ask, zipping my fleece as high as it will go.

“Maybe, but I like to get it done first thing in the day.” Husband is already jogging in place, patiently waiting for me to get warmed up. I take quick walking steps, easing into the run. Why was it I wanted to run anyway? And so early, when day has barely arrived?Mt. Hood and sunrise

Then I look up. Ah, sunrise. I had forgotten about sunrise. We run a bit, then I whip out my phone and take a picture. Further on, I stop again. Mt. Hood silhouetted by brilliant golden clouds. Yes, this is why early morning is the time to be out. Husband patiently waits. (See a pattern here?) I move on, inspired and beginning to warm up. And I keep watching the sky as the colors change and fade into streams of sunshine. A glorious fall day!

Morning sunlightFunny how life always seems better when you look up.

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