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Blog: Creatures of Autumn

When autumn does not paint the leaves, how can Princetonians know it's fall.

Well, if the colors aren't going to change, then how will Princetonians recognize this season? (Forget calendars! - what are the natural signs?)

I've found a new answer, which shows me Hallowe'en isn't in autumn for nothing.

Check out the road kill.

Maybe you've noticed, an increase of crushed creatures on and alongside roads that carry you to and from work.  An increase in quantity, as well as diversity of car-struck animals reveals a certain aspect of the crazed that is peculiar to autumn. 

Something has become more important to what the Indians call 'the four-leggeds' than safety. 

In the case of squirrels, they're madly hiding nutrient-rich treasures for the season to come, which will probably be easier to identify.  This morning, despite a queue of impatient cars behind me on Mt. Lucas Road, this morning, I managed to avoid the stash-motivated squirrel who 'Z'ed from peril to safety and back.I hoped I might have infused a soupcon of autumn caution in those behind me.

A good mantra is, "Remember, when squirrels are frenzied, deer are also."  But deer are driven by something else  -- Rutting/Procreation.  Bucks are chasing does and does are mostly fleeing, throughout months with 'R' in them.  Many romantically inclined deer end up, quite literally, in or on our roads.

Tonight, I encountered the most unusual autumn scene, on Carter Road, heading into Hopewell.  On the grassy verge, what looked like a Council of Elders ringed a fawn carcass.  Not elders but turkey vultures, surrounded a fawn resembling a Thanksgiving turkey. 

I wished I were a New Yorker cartoonist.  My Thanksgiving cover submission would be those seven turkey vultures, feasting on Pilgrims.

No, I don't have a Charles Addams point of view.  But this bleary autum, ==this time of darkening rather than brightening of colors--, plunges me into realms I do not recognize.

There's a phenomenon I cherish in normal autumnsl.  When leaves begin to vivify, tree trunks turn coal black, then obsidian, even exhibiting the gleam of these elements in otherwise bark.  I'm not seeing patent leather tree trunks this year, and I miss them.

Even so, we can tell it's autumn by familiar creatures.  Only they only seem be familiar.  They are not our summer residents, but migrants from the North, down here to feast, comparatively speaking, through our winter.

When the air fills with blue jay cries in September, it means the Northerners, -the literal snowbirds-. are back.  They carry on like long-lost relatives at a family reunion, for very good reason.

We might not realize it, but chickadees are not generally amongst our summer songsters.  Increasingly, since early September, we hear their merry chatter hither and yon. They are not exactly visitors but residents who went away for the warm months.

Sharp-shins and Cooper's hawks fill this month's skies, en route south, but most are not staying with us.  When raptors fly south in groups, you know it's autumn.

Chipmunks are showing up in friends' front yards, their tiny cheeks about to burst with autumn nuts.  These quasi-hibernators will pop out on warm winter days, to see if they can find fresh protein sources, to survive our next season.

Cardinals increase in number, as though they know how much we need them in the snow.

Geese shadow the moon, and owls will soon begin courtship calls.  But not quite yet.

So this year, never mind looking at the leaves.  Look down, especially in the woods, and sadly, on the road.  The creatures, in 2011, have become autumn's heralds.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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