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Exploding forest

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Nature is walking her walk, dancing her dance. All we have to do is notice. The fall curtain rises, inviting us in. The view is mundane—we see these changes every day, every year—but so spectacular. In the exploding forest, the imagination reigns.

The recent Hunter's Full Moon stirred all kinds of nocturnal fantasies in my mind. We slept with the bedroom windows open, worth it for listening to and interpreting all the chase games. Were those rabbits making a midnight raid of the last green peppers and zucchini, or just neighbor dogs taking a shortcut? Was that that a rock 'n' roll band practicing through the woods or a party a half mile away?

In the evening, the setting sun casts pencil-sharp shadows. Random rock piles and forgotten woodpiles become more visible daily, appearing as animated forms. Once overlooked and dormant, they are now ready to assume grander roles in the winter theater productions. As the leaves twist and spin and quilt the ground cover, the woods appear deeper. The previously tucked-in green forest is now broader, its terrain and texture more pronounced. We find deer paths easily and rolling rows of orange clay from a long-gone tobacco allotment. Bright green running cedar, shelter for a dozen different small animals, looks like it's in HD in low late-afternoon sun, spreading across the forest floor in all directions.

Curiosity rules as we bushwhack up an embankment or along a dry creek bed. How can you not take a detour? Flat rock pyramids mark cornfield corners from 50 years ago. Old cedar fence posts run down to a spring bordered by a rutted roadway and a barbed wire hog pen. Rusted roofing tin still protects the runoff.

Eager partners on the trails, the dogs take off left and right for longer periods of time. After deer and squirrels, real and imagined, they just run to run into the woods. Their echoing barks crisscross the forest. On one moonlit walk a few nights ago, I did a double take. A cedar tree silhouette looked like a reflected white skeleton. Those sorts of phantoms—things this season makes me feel—appear every year.

And always the symphony of leaves stuns—this week, tulip poplar and sweet gum. The hardwoods come in for the finale in a fortnight. Go ahead: Cue the clouds for the inspiring visual background.

Walking a popular loop trail through a pine forest recently, along the edge of an old corn-field, my wife and I arrived at a secluded pond. We are the visitors. "Shh," she whispered. "Hear that sound? Might be a coyote!"

The dogs arrived two minutes later, crashing through the Christmas ferns, sniffing and marking everything. There is life all around us.

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