As a youngster and up until recently, my favorite seasons were spring and summer. I loved the green lushness of emerging, blossoming, and fruiting plants that even on a dry prairie hide the landscape a good percentage of the time. I loved the fertile scents and nose-tickling aromas of hay and native grasses when summer sun heats their resins. I loved the way the sun created mirages that changed the face of the prairie second by second, like a personal magic show.
With time, I learned to appreciate minimalism even more than I love lush abandon. Something about the starkness of autumn feeds my spirit more than all that camouflage, rich scent, and visual deception. Shrinking grasses and losing leaves open vistas; cold temperatures sharpen and clarify scents in a way every bit as appealing as heat-generated and blended plant resins. Between colder temperatures that sharpen the how far I can see and the unique light we have due the tilt of the earth after the autumnal equinox, everything I look at appears more distinctly than each spring and summer’s views.
Once autumn arrives, it reminds me how much abundance summer hides. Fields and pastures lush with curly buffalo grass, big bluestem, little blue stem, silver blue stem, side oats gramma, and bunches of Indian grass hide trails of field mice, rabbits, and even deer unless one wanders into the pasture and looks directly at these pathways. Summer leaves hide bird and squirrel nests. At the same time, they hide the creatures that live or feed in those trees.
After the grasses shrivel and autumn winds batter leaves from their trees, one can stand, sit, or lie on any overlook and see a previously unknown world. An entire infrastructure of animal and insect roadways interweave the prairie like all those streets and highways connecting homes and businesses in big cities. It’s a Google Earth micro-world. At the same time the dying grasses open a new view, the falling leaves unveil deer and turkeys meandering through the trees until I can see each creature’s individual markings.
At the same time someone notices this world that has remained hidden through spring and summer, he or she might also recognize the sharpness of scents. Somehow, heat in the summer month causes a blending so that it is often hard to distinguish exactly what one smells on a breeze. In the brisk fall temperatures, smells hit scent receptors one at a time, allowing one to savor the sharpness of blue berries clustered on cedars. A venture into a Osage Orange hedge sets off conflicting responses. At first, citrusy smells, which might explain why someone called this ugly fruit an Osage orange, tickle nostrils. The squashed fruits with innards peeking out emit a puky smell that assaults the nose. In nose numbing autumn temps, scents don’t mix.
At the same time the under-world of the prairie becomes more evident and when scents sharpen and become more individual, autumn’s cool temperatures reduce mirages and misty hazes that often delude the summer visitor to the high plains. It is easy to stand on a hilltop and see clearly for miles and miles in any direction. I watch vehicles travel from Ogallah on past Ellis and identify what kind and color they are even though I am miles from them. Someone who knows vehicles could tell make and model as well. I can see the elevator at Riga distinctly and the one between Ogallah and Wakeeney is pretty clear even though it is over 15 miles away. If I go outside at night, that clarity continues. I feel like I could touch the stars if only I could reach a little higher.
Despite loving summer’s lush richness, I have learned autumn’s starkness appeals to my senses in a way that allows a minimalist’s appreciation for nature.