Signs of the times

The mild temperatures continue… After a low of 3.9 degrees Celsius recorded on our outside thermometer on Sunday night, Monday night’s temperatures showed a low of 13 degrees.

Here on the Steele Line north of Quyon, farms are protected from the early frost that some other friends who live further west have already experienced. Up in Thorne there was a frost during the weekend of September 13; and last week I hear there was a killing frost near Rutledge.

So far our vegetable garden has escaped Jack Frost. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers… even our delicate nasturtiums – that are always the first to die when the temperature dips – continue to thrive.

At time of writing this column, the nighttime sky displays a canopy of twinkling stars, while fog swirls across the fields, highway and backroads. Driving was tricky tonight, while returning from Ottawa. Nonetheless, there’s a beauty to the licks of mist making their familiar horizontal bands across Route 148.

But despite warm temperatures, birds are flocking and the Pontiac countryside is becoming increasingly silent.

Have any of you heard the whip-poor-will lately? Up to 10 days ago, a few of them were still calling in the back woods come nightfall. But now they appear to have left. Similarly, the brown thrashers have left, and although I spied our bluebird a week ago, I’ve not seen it since.

Large flocks of starlings line up along the hydro lines, chattering and swooping off in unison through the fields.

Similarly, the crows are also flocking at this time of the year. While driving home from Shawville this morning, there were approximately 200 in a cornfield south of the highway.

And I’m sure many of you have heard the first Vs of Canada geese fly past, overhead.

But along with the flocking and disappearance of summer migrants, along comes another most welcome phase.

At this time of the year, other chickadees and blue jays start to appear near the house. Increasingly I’ve hear the blue jay’s “squeaky-porch-door” call in the lilacs and near our pond, as this bird starts to forage closer to the yard.

Chickadees now flit through the jack pine, ironwood and ash that grow nearby, too, while white-crowned sparrows march along through the lawn, eating flower seeds in the garden.

Nearby, other critters are enjoying the change of season, too. I’ve spotted three bears in Gatineau Park. One was on the Notch Road (near Hull/Aylmer) the other night, where my car’s headlights illuminated a bulky shape bounding across the road. Eric stopped the car and, keeping our lights on, we watched the bruin sit up on its hind legs, sniffing at our vehicle. Seemingly reassured that we meant no harm, it loped off, disappearing into the woods.

I spotted the other two bears loping into the Park, most assuredly after feasting in a cornfield. When I pulled up beside the woods where they had disappeared, I noted the well-beaten path leading from the park into the crop. Surely it makes a welcome buffet at this time of the year for these bears.

Meanwhile, another sign of the season is the scarlet colour of sumac and maple, in particular. The ridge of the Eardley Escarpment is beginning to don its dappled hues of autumn, as white ash leaves turn purple-bronze, aspen their shimmering gold, and maples their varied hues.

Speaking of leaves, many of you will have noticed that some species have particularly suffered from the drought. Although some people might have enjoyed the lack of precipitation, some trees and shrubs in the forest look as if they have shut down. The leaves on several trees have looked dead for two or three weeks. Maples seem to be particularly hard hit on our property, with some looking as though they may not recover.

However, nature looks after itself. It will be interesting to monitor two trees on our property, in particular, to see if they are really dead, or whether they’ve entered a premature dormancy for this time of the year. This is what I think (and hope) has actually occurred, and it makes sense. Instead of expending energy and sending moisture and nutrients to the leaves, I think these trees are conserving their food, storing it in the critical root system. Conserving energy will allow the tree to survive winter and, hopefully, do better next year.

We’ll see what happens.

Now is the time of year for other autumn festivities, too. Fall fairs are winding down… but Thanksgiving approaches, bringing its reminder for us all to give thanks for the bounty of our lives. After that family time comes yet another celebration: Hallowe’en.

Which brings me to mention the fall crop of pumpkins. There’s always a lovely display of these fruit, small and large, at Mo Laidlaw’s Stoneleigh Farm located on the highway east of the old Hurdman farmhouse. They make a cheerful reminder of happy times to come… not just of creating Jack o’Lantern faces, but also of piping hot pumpkin pies… Always a happy thought here in our household.

These are just a few of the signs of the late autumn… a time for reflection, and for planning next year’s crops.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from her home office north of Quyon.