The sights, sounds, and smells of Fall

Published 1:35 am Sunday, October 24, 2010

I reckon it was the longest, hottest summer on record which caused it, but fall has fell about as suddenly as I ever recall. ‘Course, my recaller ain’t what it used to be either, I’ll admit. Yet the sassafras thickets on the ditchbanks and treelines went from green to being that beautiful burnt orange all over, just overnight, it seems like. No individual leaves showing off atall.

Most of the sumac and poison oak did the same number, turning from green to red — bingo! The persimmons have added their brilliant yellow to the calliope of color we’re treated to, then the sweetgums are chiming in with their multi-hued, but mainly purple this fall, changes.

Now is the time to drive or hike around and pick out your sassafras thickets to harvest for roots to make tea with when they dry on top of the refrigerator, or to clip the saplings to smoke your venison, wild turkeys, and dead pigmeat over on your grill. A wild turkey or hindquarter slow-smoked over sassafras coals all day and half the night will turn red an inch into the meat, and you cannot beat the taste!

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Nor can you beat the smell, when it comes into the kitchen hot off the grill. I have long been medically under-tall, and it’s always seemed like I could gain five pounds by just inhaling, before I ever cut into the meat, smoked thataway.

I was all the way out in the pasture last Saturday, piling up limbs for the first bonfire with the grandsons, when I suddenly stopped and sniffed, like a bird dog. Following my nose, I went straight to the kitchen, where Betsy was finishing up a making of pepper jelly — to die for, spread lightly on the aforementioned pork loin. She also had a making of sweet potato pies cooling on the counter, adding that hint of nutmeg to the aroma of the Brownspur fall air.

Fall smells: woodsmoke, ripe muscadines and possum grapes, burnt gun powder, the ginger lillies out at Betsy’s High Place, the peppery scent of ragweeds down in the Mammy Grudge, the persimmons that busted when they dropped — all those combined with the aromas seeping from the kitchen to make me aware once again that we are so blessed to live out here in rural Mississippi in America.

The air finally turned crisp, hopefully to stay, and at night there’s a screech owl in the persimmon grove across the driveway from the bedroom window who serenades us to sleep. He or she is doubtless a descendant of one of our family owls: Hoot, or Gordo, or Don Quixote, or Junior. I wish Monfred the Red Baron had lived to pass along his genes, but the rare red-phase little owl never recovered from a collision with an automobile window that left one eye blood-covered, and later passed away from his head injury.

Major, the great horned owl that Adam rehabbed from another head injury, still sits almost nightly in one of the oaks or cottonwoods behind the house and calls out to us in his low-key speaking voice, although he can get fired up and give that raucous squawk or that two-mile hoot when he’s a mind to. A pack of coyotes silenced the screech owl the other night, the first we’ve heard in months, although the family of red wolves in Rick’s thick woods a half-mile south of the Mammy Grudge still howl to each other on a regular basis. Someone’s hound — not a beagle, sounded more like a bluetick — has been paying us a sonorous visit from the other side of the canal, running rabbits early a couple of mornings a week. The hawks and kites have flocked in as usual for the harvest season, and I hear their shrill cries from so high up that I can hardly spot them in the clear blue sky.

I called Betsy out just the other day to show her a cloud — it had been so long since we’d actually seen one! When has it been so dry and hot for so long?

Well, sooner or later, the weather will change, and the sweet smell of

rain will wash away the dust smell from the air, as well as clearing the smoke and dust from the atmosphere so we can better see the moon and stars more starkly at night. On my nightly patrols for armadillos and skunks, sometimes I’d swear that I can actually smell Venus. Ain’t it nice, around these parts? What do city folks do?