Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Autumn Comes

What builds, what informs our sense of a place?

Fresh from yesterday's late-season rain, South Fork in the Chiricahua Mountains is entering autumn. Today I hike up the road, now inhabited by winter birds: the chittering small flocks of Chipping Sparrows, kinglets and titmice. The woodpeckers and sapsuckers are hammering industriously.

A Red-naped Sapsucker is back in his favorite winter tree.
(Photos by Narca)

A Mexican Jay hopes that a picnic is in his future.

A mob of Mexican Jays shadows me, swooping silently through the streamside cypress trees. Across the creek, a large mammal shuffles unseen uphill. Bear? A clumsy deer?

Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii)

Sycamore leaves are rusting into a glorious orange against the deep blue Arizona sky, then dropping quietly into the creek.

The Lemonadeberry (Rhus trilobata) shades into coral and vermilion.

Silverleaf Oak (Quercus hypoleucoides)

A Silverleaf Oak's new leaves are red, too, but they still have a life of greening and photosynthesizing before they fall.

A late-blooming Red Columbine (Aquilegia triternata)

It is mid-day and the butterflies throng to the late-season flowers. Most are Variegated Fritillaries, but they are joined by a few blues, sulphurs, Arizona Sisters, ladies, Red-spotted Purples, one giant Two-tailed Swallowtail, and one of my favorites––a Red-bordered Satyr. Backlit in the sun, the oranges of the fritillaries and the sisters burn brilliantly in a visual echo of the autumn sycamore leaves.

An Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia) pauses on a sunlit cypress.

A Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) nectars on an autumn composite.

All these details––all these particulars––tie us to the canyon, with its lichen-coated rhyolitic cliffs. These specific encounters create and deepen our felt sense of this place, in this particular time of its own long life. Autumn comes, after the big fire, after the healing rains. And here we are. Rugged Chiricahua hoodoos. Gallery forest of sycamore and cypress, sheltering life, winding between the high cliffs.