An Autumn Walk with Lois Nestel

Emily Stone

“This is autumn, when the beauty of maturity becomes apparent in the flowing colors of the leaves…” wrote Lois Nestel, the Museum first naturalist and director. Photos by Emily Stone.
“This is autumn, when the beauty of maturity becomes apparent in the flowing colors of the leaves…” wrote Lois Nestel, the Museum first naturalist and director. Photos by Emily Stone.

As the fall winds begin to blow, I once again seek strength and renewal in the words and wisdom of Lois Nestel, the Museum’s founding naturalist and director. She wrote:   “We come now to the season of restlessness and change, a time of extremes when the crisp frostiness of morning may mellow into voluptuous warmth under a benevolent sun. Fruitfulness gives way gradually to senility and decay, an erosion of life forces as the pace slows toward the time of rest.  

“This is autumn, when the beauty of maturity becomes apparent in the flowing colors of the leaves, in seed pod, capsule and cone; autumn, when late blooming flowers become rare treasures and the spider’s web, bejeweled with dew, a work of art.  

“By day sudden swirls of birds announce the feeding of migrating flocks. By night the passage of countless others is proclaimed only by faint twitterings high in the darkened sky. Muted colors, muted sounds…a tuning down from summer’s hectic pace.  

“Days of crystal clarity, days hazy blue or fog-enshrouded, denote the season. Summer and winter are in never-ending altercation, but with summer weakening with the passing time. The brilliance of the stars seems greater and the harvest moon repeats the antique gold of autumn leaves. Chill nights quiet the cricket’s song but arouse that of the ululating coyote. The tide of plant and insect life ebbs as that of the predator rises to full flood.  

“Every creation in its own unique way senses the changing season and prepares accordingly. For many there is death, with only token forces remaining to carry on the generations. For some there is dormancy and rest; for some a changed but continuing activity, while others—from choice or necessity flee southward. Human response differs only in detail from that of other creatures: the instinctive urge for comfort, survival and continuity.  

“Chill days and scudding clouds and instinct say, “Prepare, the time of hardship looms ahead.” There is an awareness, an urgency that quickens with the shortened days. There is an upsurge of fresh energy to meet the challenge of the future, a determination that makes the heart sing, not a last requiem to the dying season, but a song of thankfulness and joy.   “Emerson, in his poem “Apology,” wrote: “Think me not unkind and rude that I walk alone in grove and glen; I go to the god of the wood to fetch his word to men.”  

“While I may not go to the wood to fetch back words of wisdom, I do by choice traverse it alone on most occasions. There may be many reasons for my going. I may be searching for specific plants for photographic subjects or equally practical purposes, but most often (and most rewarding) I go for the soothing, healing peace the solitude of a quiet woodland brings to me.  

“At this time of year the tranquility of nature seems most apparent. It is the deep-breathing pause between the hectic days of growth and fruition and the chilled dormancy of winter. Fallen leaves carpet the earth in hues that rival and outshine the crafts of the Orient. Mosses, at their greenest now, seem to glow with an inner radiance on rock and stump and fallen tree. The beauty of these lowly plants is equal to the fairest flower or mightiest tree. Mingling one with another, they clothe the raw earth and decaying wood in protective emerald garb.   “Beneath tall evergreens one can move in cat-footed silence over moss and needle-cushioned ground, seeing, hearing, and feeling the serenity of a natural world. Being alone in this way is not being lonely. Freed from the need for conversation and the distractions of everyday affairs, one can open the doors of the mind, airing out the pettiness, discord and annoyance.  

“Truly there is great wisdom here if willing hearts and open minds can accept it: the endless patience of forest and earth to renew themselves despite the many violations wrought upon them by man; the lack of malice among wild creatures who prey upon one another only to sustain life but never in spite or rancor. And there is hope and faith, for even as the dying leaves color the earth, the trees and shrubs are putting forth new buds for the year to come. The seed, fallen to the ground, bears the germ of the plant yet to come, and the bulb beneath the earth bears within its heart next summer’s flower.  

“These things speak to me in my solitary walks. They speak in the still, small voice of the spirit and I am strengthened and renewed.”  

Special Note: Emily’s book, Natural Connections: Exploring Northwoods Nature through Science and Your Senses is here! Order your copy at http://cablemuseum.org/natural-connections-book/. Listen to the podcast at www.cablemusum.org!  

For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: "Better Together--Celebrating a Natural Community" is now open!

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