Segments of a decaying leaf.
Roadtrip! A mild October day was the catalyst for a short, mostly unplanned trip to the Fort Valley area of Virginia. After an hour driving westward on I66, and lunch at Front Royal, Virginia, it was time to decide. Visit Shenandoah National Park or drive towards the Massanutten high country?
Virginia is a beautiful state. This is especially true in the fall, when canopies of color cover the hills and valleys that roll westward, rising slowly towards the grand chain of peaks that form the heart of Appalachia. Fort Valley is a valley within a valley, so to speak, nestled between the Shenandoah Valley and the Massanutten mountains.
A mere seventy minutes from Washington D.C., Front Royal Virginia is the gateway to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. A launching point to smaller towns and villages that dot the Shenandoah Valley. In mid autumn, the state roads heading west and south are transformed into colorful avenues that beckon further exploration. A left turn at a stoplight. A few miles later, another left turn to Virginia 678. As the road meandered towards the George Washington National Forest, the cloud filled October sky gave way to a kaleidoscope of colors that seemed unending. The red, orange, yellow and green hues of the still leaf filled trees transform into a sonata of color as the road weaved up and down through mountain passes and the valley floor. A quiet Monday afternoon. A stunningly beautiful Monday afternoon.
With birds continuing to migrate southward in search of warmer climes, the number of birds in local birding hotspots have increased dramatically from their summer lulls. The larger birds, such as the osprey, egrets and herons, many of whom made the mid Atlantic their home in the warmth of summer, have left or will soon be leaving. Gone are the ospreys, the green herons, the little blue herons. There are egrets and Great Blue herons milling about, but they too are diminishing in numbers. The hummingbirds have fueled up for their trip south as well. In a few days, these fleet flyers will be but a summer memory.
The warblers are back, at least for a few weeks. The fall foliage makes finding these birds even more difficult for novice (or inexperienced) birders such as myself. You will hear the rustling of leaves, a chirp or some other sound that betrays their presence, but even with such clues, fall colors meld with the faded colors of these birds. Still, the challenge and enjoyment of finding these birds are undiminished. The number of birding groups in the local nature preserves increase dramatically in the spring and fall migration season. There is something calming about birds – a perfect tonic to the busy life we live in urban and suburban America.
I visited Huntley Meadows three times in the last four days. The last vestiges of summer, in the form of an upsurge of warmer temperatures, have drawn out a bevy of revelers in the outdoor venues. Children with their parents, their classmates on field trips – the happy noise brings a different life to the naturally quiet places that are in diminishing numbers in an urbanized America. To hear a child exclaim their surprise in seeing a frog, a bird, a flower, a fallen leaf is to understand that within us all, it is this sense of wonder that must survive and thrive if we are to remain vibrant in mind and spirit.
Winter will soon be here. The kingfishers will remain, as long as the waters do not freeze over. The bald eagles roam the riverside. The shovelers, the mallards, mergansers will be sharing the preserves with those of us walking the boardwalks in the frozen winds that will soon come. Autumn leaves are falling. In the changing season, the endurance of life is in full display.