Lime Hollow Nature Center
Covered Bridge at the Lime Hollow Visitor Center

From My Sit Spot

by Pete Angie

WoodsEntering the woods, my eyes shift rapidly between up and down, from the moist avenues of slugs and snails to the rugged trunks of sugar maples in a dizzying dance. I’m torn between sitting down to inspect, and a desire to walk and explore. Each year the coming of fall gives my feet an itchy feeling and I experience an acute urge to go hiking or paddling, to roam over the land. Today, though, I sit, a discipline I am learning, and pay attention to what I hear, see, feel and smell.

Cool air on my skin, the subtle tangy scent of decaying plant matter, a loud wik wik wik from a passing northern flicker, highlights of colorful red leaves interspersed in what is still a mostly green canopy. Senescence, the dying of non-perennial parts of a plant, is taking place above my head, prompted by the shortening of days. Quietly the season‘s hallmark foliage is being crafted. As the weather cools production of the green pigment chlorophyll slows and stops in deciduous leaves, becoming gold as it decays and unveiling less abundant pigments of orange, red, purple and brown. Their functions are to absorb light energy in wavelengths that green chlorophyll cannot capture, and to protect their green counterparts from bleaching. They are also the painters of autumn, transforming trees into vibrant reds, oranges and yellows, a slowly unraveling spectacle of captured sunlight. Suddenly something enters my peripheral vision, snatching my thoughts abpruptly out of the branches.

At first I do not consciously see it, noticing instead that I have just jumped a little and I ask myself why. It is then that I see a dusky shape out of the corner of my left eye that maybe hadn’t been there before. Had it? Then it moves, flicks its ear to be exact, and I know that a deer is watching me, asking itself why it is startled too. Proceeding with painstaking caution, she bluff grazes then raises her head up quickly to try and catch me moving, then walks slowly, pausing often to stare. Behind her, one at a time, three other does follow.

They are likely her daughters and grand daughters, living in a family group to the exclusion of non-family members. There are no adult males to be seen, though it would not be improbable now. Remaining segregated all year, the sexes mix in the early fall, gathering in large numbers from dusk until dawn to feed, socialize, compete and bed down. There may be bucks somewhere not far from here, skill sparing with their new antlers, learning and testing each other’s strength in preparation for the rut ahead. Daily they become more aggressive through a process beyond their control as the shortening days stimulates production of testosterone.

Changing course, the doe takes a few steps directly toward me then stops. Several years ago a curious deer approached to within no more than fifteen feet of where I stood, and I hope for a repeat of that here, trying to remain perfectly still. Cruelly testing my resolve, a mosquito bites my forehead while another gorges on my neck. I take solace in the fact that soon it will be too cold for them to survive, and hold steady. Without warning--that I could detect--she raises her white tail like a flag and leaps away, closely followed by the others. I am left slightly disappointed and scratching my face.

Turning my eyes to the trees again, I wonder if the doe would have stayed if I were as motionless as their branches on this tranquil day. How would it feel to be a tree, rattled only by the wind, rooted yet colorful and ever changing? Or to be a deer, aware in ways that I can not even imagine? I think about it while the sun sets, a little earlier than it did yesterday.