October in the Country

Faced with a free afternoon, I am inclined to escape to the country; if I happen to be in Missouri, I head for the rolling farmlands and wooded valleys south and east of Columbia.  While such an excursion can be interesting at any time of the year, autumn is my favorite season for wandering through the countryside (as it is for most outdoor activities).

Of course, man's imprint on the landscape is everywhere, from rustic farms to gaudy homesteads to out-of-place mansions.  But nature never fails to impress and, in October, colorful woodlands and clean edged, yellowing meadows glow in the crisp autumn air.  Kestrels, mourning doves and eastern bluebirds lounge on the powerlines, red-tailed hawks circle overhead, flocks of red-winged blackbirds pick through the corn stubble and placid livestock, no longer annoyed by summer's insects, graze on the drying grasslands.  Dipping through the woods, one encounters the usual mix of winter songbirds, an occasional troop of wild turkeys and, early or late in the day, the startled figure of a red fox, coyote or white-tailed deer.

Today's visit, beneath a clear blue sky, offered most of those rewards.  Yet, a bank of clouds to the northwest warned that the next cold front was preparing to drop through the Heartland.  Such storm fronts will arrive with increasing frequency in the coming weeks and, before long, winter will grip the region.  But, riding those northern winds, flocks of snow geese will call from the frigid skies, trumpeter swans will visit from breeding areas to our north and short-eared owls will appear on these farmlands, content to spend a few months in the bleak winter landscape of the American Midwest.