Autumn Nostalgia

It rained leaves yesterday: red and silver maple, elm and basswood. Ash and birch fell last week. Other maples, oak, aspen, hackberry and ginkgo are still to come. The sky was hazy sun, the air windy and mild. A few late asters bloomed and honey bees jostled each other seeking the season’s last pollen and nectar. I am nostalgic for another summer gone by and I do not look forward to winter. 

The leaves kindle warm memories of the past: Nighttime walks scuffling through dried leaves with family and friends; autumn bonfires, years of after-school leaf walks with our young son. His warm, small hand held mine and his other was packed with leaves for projects — leaf bouquets, nature collages and little booklets with leaves and seeds of neighborhood trees. 

I miss the leaves; every year it’s the same. I miss their spicy scent, earthy and tangy with just a touch of sweetness as they break down. I miss their nighttime whispers on warm, summer winds, and the rattle of older, dry leaves in autumn. November winds whip them into swirling, airborne eddies and send them skittering down streets. They catch among rocks and old stalks, tucking in our garden until spring. Summer’s green umbrella slowly smolders to yellow, orange, russet, red and maroon. The canopy thins and falls, nestling woodlands and yards under a colorful quilt for winter.

Robins and Apple Blossoms

Spotting a robin in March signaled the onset of spring to me as a child. We had a “Golden Book” titled, Birds: A Child’s First Book About Our Most Familiar Birds. It featured drawings of neatly woven nests cradling delicate eggs and portraits of familiar garden birds. Illustrations often showed robin nests built in blossoming apple trees and that image, along with the robin’s melodic songs, became synonymous with spring in my young mind.

Decades later, my husband and I bought our home in Saint Paul. Our first evening there, we sat on the back stoop beneath a beacon apple tree that’s now more than 80 years old. Two adult robins flew in and out of its leafy crown indicating the presence of a nest. A chorus of high-pitched chirps greeted the parents as the hatchlings anticipated dinner, their tiny heads stretching over the nest’s rim. During the next few weeks, we were privy to nestling squabbles, flight training, food procuring and the proper way to down a worm!

Some say that red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are the new sign of spring’s return to Minnesota. Robins now winter in the state and I hear their sweet songs on milder midwinter days. Many birds can withstand very cold weather as long as they find enough food to fuel their metabolic rate. Gardens often feature crabapple, mountain ash, dogwood and other fruit eaten by wintering birds. City boulevard plantings include fruit trees and larger trees like hackberry. I frequently see large groups of wintering robins dart between the crowns of boulevard hackberries near Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul. Robins also eat bird feeder food during winter that they wouldn’t touch in other seasons. Many a robin has dined with the woodpeckers at our suet feeder!

Sometimes I wake up to robin song drifting in through my bedroom windows in the predawn darkness. I remember childhood mornings of their pure, lovely caroling along with the scent of lilacs, the touch of humid air and perhaps thunder rumbling in the distance from an early morning storm. These are joyful memories — and though robins often ride out the winter in Minnesota, their clear singing, and the beauty of apple blossoms, still signify spring to me.

Further Reading:

American Robin

Red-winged Blackbird