I started shooting at the greenway prairie patches in my town in mid-August, when the entire system was just beginning its late summer fade. Bee balm was mostly gone, and the coneflowers and milkweed were starting to give way to bright yellow rudbeckia.
Grasshoppers were everywhere, embarking on their late summer munching tour. Purely by accident I discovered that grasshoppers smile, and can look quite cheerful — even jaunty – when you catch them at the right angle.
I spent September elsewhere, partly in the Smoky Mountains, and partly back home, absorbing the Smokies in my mind. I returned to the prairie patches this week, in the earliest part of October. The changes worked by the last month were evident. The color scheme has shifted from bright yellow, blue and pink to burnished gold and deep purple. The rudbeckia, also known as black-eyed Susans, were long gone, having given way during my absence to goldenrod. The pungent scent of withered leaves, so familiar in fall, hangs over the plants.
Butterflies are nearly absent now, except for a couple of pearl crescents trying to get in a late season tryst, and a solitary skipper. Grasshoppers were also fewer, and the ones that remained were skittish. I suppose this makes sense; when you reach autumn, the survivors are going to be the wily ones. Every time I moved, a grasshopper leapt out of the plants, unleashing a shower of downy seeds, each one catching the last rays of sun as it fell to the earth.
Grasshoppers chew everything in this patch, and then they replant it. Good for them. We should be more like grasshoppers, right down to the gleeful expressions.
When I looked up from the plants, I saw the fawns I’d been photographing at this spot all through August. Back then, they still wore their tender white spots. Now, in early autumn, the spots are gone, leaving the dun-colored hair of an adult. They’ve left fawnhood behind, and are now young deer. This is the breaking point for me. Summer is gone.
Autumn is a time of surrender for me, a seductive call for me to face change I don’t want. It’s a beautiful season, almost irresistibly so, but I have a terrible time giving in. But winter just ended, I want to cry out, as if the rhythms of the earth were ever open to persuasion or protest. I cringe away from winter and its darkness and its color voids, and what it does to my usually lively mind. Again? I ask limply.
It’s an annual lesson for me: Surrender, surrender, surrender. Accept what comes. Winter will teach me what I’m supposed to learn, and work me like clay, and then it will be spring again, and the bee balm will rise, and the monarchs will return from their winter retreat in Mexico, little winged world travelers that they are.
And then when the season closes yet again – which it will, because it always does – maybe I’ll be a little more adept at letting it fly. And the next time something changes against my will – whether it’s a season, a relationship, or my own uncertain place in the world, I’ll have the lessons of autumn to draw upon.
And maybe the grin of a grasshopper.