Autumn seeds         a rising choir         —         into what dark promise         will the sounding fly?

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Here by the autumn creekside,

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a stealthy fox emerges from cover

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to prey upon a squirrel

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 that nimbly leaps away.

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And here the next morning, back set to the sun, the fox bends to it again.

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September sun rising on the web,

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a nearby male sets in shade,

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and silk spun round a Rose of Sharon leaf

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folds a female home.

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Thanks to spring blooms that fed the bees
that pollinated the flowers that produced fall’s fruit,
a gray squirrel dangles from hind legs, to pluck a ripe crabapple,
and nibble the food in its paws on a nearby branch.

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In certain cultures, it might be improper to tell stories out of season.

Nature sharing can feel that way too.

But when some of the year’s last fruits hang from their branches, I can’t help but see a whole tree abloom like spring.

Culmination of our seasons, late fall’s crabapple makes even that floral expression seem present today.

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Gold to crimson leaves are not the only signs of a changing season.

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A black and russet-banded Woolly Bear makes its way along Little Crum Creek.

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 Come spring, it may pupate, emerging as an adult Isabella Tiger Moth.

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But autumn’s caterpillar must first endure a long cold winter:
taking shelter, curling in bristly cover against predators,
and, incredibly, generating a cryoprotectant chemical
to safeguard cells from freezing temperatures…

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waiting for spring and the return of warmer weather.

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Vestige of summer, and brightest of autumn’s early colors,

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a yellowing ash tree in the sun yet unleaves its burning tongues

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to winds that whisper a nearing winter and fallen moments gone.

 

Though its autumn leaves are yellow and not the commonly cited red, and though it never fruits the hallmark crimson keys we’d call “helicopters,” I can finally pin a name to the indifferent subject of my long but casual scrutiny:

a red maple tree.

Other identifying characteristics have been evident throughout the year…

I’ve gathered three-lobed leaves fallen from their opposite arrangement on summer branches, accidentally peeled plated bark from the trunk when tugging climbing ivy, collected many brittle branches dropped to the woodland floor, and patiently watched wine-red twigs and buds endure a long winter.

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But it’s a small flower that finally proves the name.

In early spring, a single red maple can flower a marriage of male and female blooms, a union that will likely produce a bunch of winged seeds.

Other individuals might present exclusively male or female flowers.

The female kind may be pollinated by male neighbors and thereby fruit seeded helicopters.

But this particular red maple has revealed its own dispositon along Little Crum Creek:  a naturally confirmed bachelorhood of total male florescence that won’t be going to seed.100_9467edcropC100_9522edcropC                                                                                                      .

100_9543edcropANow, why its leaves turn yellow in fall, and not red, I can’t yet say.

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 Back in November,
when autumn’s trees unveiled winter’s bare-limbed vistas,
new hawk patterns appeared over Little Crum Creek.

Which hawk, then, was daily greeting sunrise above a nearby field: 
the customary Cooper’s or the newly suspected Red-tailed?

One day I watched one bolt from its branch for a mid-air strike,
but hawk and prey suddenly vanished in a snowy cloud of feathers.

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While the Cooper’s Hawk seemed to preside over spring and summer,
the Red-tailed’s claim began to mount in fall.

I’d frequently spot one abandoning a perch,
its namesake tail fanned in flight.

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Another soared,
intermittently flapping,
in high wide circles above the field.

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Soon closer visits permitted better scrutiny. 

Based on the belly’s vested coloration
and relatively short tail feathers,
these two, above & below, look like Red-tailed Hawks.

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For contrast,
consider the thinly-streaked belly & breast coloration
plus the long, thickly-banded tail feathers
of a mid-December Cooper’s Hawk
in the following two photos.

(Its tail feathers seem too rounded for the lookalike Sharp-shinned Hawk.)

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In January, and now February,
this accipiter has seemed scarce. 

But count on seeing a Red-tailed just about any day.

Since December’s late snowfall, this buteo’s been our most prominent raptor.

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October morning, Little Crum Creek
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