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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman

 

Have you been for a walk in the woods today? It’s a great day to be in the woods!

Granted, I’m not sure which day you are reading this, but almost everyday is a great day to be in the woods. This time of year, when the weather gets cooler, it’s easy to make excuses, like “It’s too windy. It’s too cold.” In the spring 40o is reason to wear shorts; in the fall it’s an excuse to sit by the fire and read. But with the exception of high winds or lightning or hail, there’s really no bad time to walk in the woods.

The trees protect you from moderate winds, even without their leaves. And briskly walking will keep you warm. Sure, it’s cold sitting in a stadium, but movement burns calories, which produces heat. Rain gear will protect you from a light rain. And being outdoors and seeing Nature up close and personal almost always brightens your mood, especially on dreary days.

Last month we had some excellent Indian summer days and the leaves were gorgeous. This month the leaves are mostly down, but they are still gorgeous. The reds and oranges have mostly faded, but there are a hundred different tones of brown. Oak leaves particularly are interesting. Some are deeply lobed, some are barely lobed, some are pointy, some are rounded, some are broad, some are narrow, depending on whether it’s a red oak, white oak, black oak, pin oak, burr oak or other kind. Right now the oak leaves are shiny like new leather.

Being a Master Naturalist honestly doesn’t mean you know a whole lot—you just know a little about a lot of topics: trees, soils, wildflower, animals, invasive species, etc. And it means you appreciate the wonders of Nature and you’re willing to learn more about these topics. I hope by this time next fall I won’t just know the names of different types of oaks, but be able to identify the leaves of each one. All I need is a good guide book and there are many to choose from.

While hiking at Pine Knob County Park I saw my first junco of the autumn season. They flock to my feeders when the snows come, but they spend their summers farther north. I also saw hawks, vultures, nuthatches, robins, downy woodpeckers, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, and a tufted titmouse. I heard goldfinches. With leaves off the trees you can find a lot of nests, too. The easiest one to identify is probably a Baltimore oriole’s nest. They are little pouches that hang under the branch, rather than on it. Those orioles really have some fine architectural skills! You usually see their nests high up in the tree, and they must be built well because they ususally are visible until the leaves come back in the spring and hide them once again.

Fallen leaves can be used to create autumn-themed centerpieces inexpensively. The Better Homes and Gardens website has a large section on decorating with leaves. The idea I liked best was to line a bowl with leaves, fill it with water and set floating candles on it. Leaves can be pressed to retain their vibrant colors and used for a variety of decorating ideas.

I also picked up some acorns and other nuts. I plan to use them instead of glass pebbles in a clear vase to hold upright some dried stems of ornamental grasses. The squirrels must be quite busy right now, because I found lots of acorn caps, but the acorn nuts were mostly already gone.

It’s also a good time to hunt for pine cones. You can smear them with peanut butter, roll them in birdseed, and hang them out for the birds in the winter when seeds are hard to find. They also lend themselves to lots of holiday decorations.

So, no more excuses! Get out there and enjoy autumn, even on the less than “perfect” days!