Autumn and its Tiny Animal Delights

“There is a season, turn, turn, turn,” the Byrds sang in 1965, quoting loosely from Ecclesiastes, “and a time for every purpose, unto heaven.” Every year about this time I’m reminded of the appropriateness of this old Bible verse turned folk-rock poetic insight into the turning year as the first day of fall rolls around.

Natural cycles (“turn, turn, turn”) are what drives much of the meaning in my life. I note and celebrate with my attention the diurnal cycles, the seasonal cycles, you name it. I like the way the phases of the moon wax and wane. I rise early and like noting the way morning turns into day, day into afternoon, and afternoon into evening. I like summer, but I also celebrate the turning year– fall into winter into spring back into summer. “The circle game,” Joni Mitchell called it back when the Byrds were singing.

This year it was more difficult to celebrate the changes though. We seemed stuck on one long dry seasonal note. I thought summer would never leave. There was turning to be done, but the deep heat lingered. August was the hottest month ever-across the region 13 days reached record temperatures, many over 100 degrees, and the average temperature in the upcountry of South Carolina was seven degrees above normal.

August is always hot in South Carolina, but this year I couldn’t help but think, to quote some more 60s song lyrics from Buffalo Springfield, “There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

But so far the changing climate has not entirely taken autumn from us. I kept the faith through the dog days of August. I watched the endless century days come and go, and I kept humming that old song.

Finally when all seemed lost and we hovered in an endless hot place called August, one morning I walked out the back door and it was cool. Not old autumn cool, but cool enough so that I could perceive a change in the air. A few days later it was September and I walked out to get the paper. There was my first sure sign of autumn come around again: A six-inch green lizard stretched full-length along a strand of the stainless steel cable around our backdoor stoop.

We’re so close to the floodplain of Lawson’s Fork these green anoles are everywhere, and I know from five years of occupancy that they use our railings for early season thermo-regulation on the first cool mornings. Often there will be multiple reptiles lined up on one strand of cable, sapping what heat they can from the metal. “It’s a three lizard morning,” I’ll think as I walk out to get the paper one October morning before dawn. “Sweater time is not far behind.” I’ll know autumn has arrived.

And then there’s also the autumn football season to tip me off. Football means fall to most fans like me. It’s a signpost predictable as lizards warming on the porch. It’s the season that spans summer and the cold to come.

What I love about sitting in the stands on Saturday afternoons is watching the monarch butterflies flapping south on their annual migration. Last Saturday we were at Gibbs Stadium on a hot September Saturday that almost fooled us into believing summer had returned. We sweated and cheered for Wofford’s heroic, historic 42-31 victory over Appalachian State.

It seemed too hot to play football, but in spite of the heat, on the field was a game for the ages. In the sky was proof of seasonal change too: an epic yearly contest far older and even more dramatic than college football, butterflies fluttering hard for their wintering grounds far south. I counted six flapping past in two hours of football and I knew autumn was here for sure. Though it was unseasonable hot, they were back, and I could count on something steadfast and clear.

“Turn, turn, turn,” the Byrds sang, and I did. I sat in the stands and cheered Wofford to victory, but I also multiplied those tiny black and orange travelers by every ten acres of the piedmont and I rested in the assurance of butterflies headed south. In spite of global warming, there’s still a season for lizards, for butterflies, and for football. Go Terriers! Go monarchs!

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