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High point

On a bright day with a brisk wind, with the trees in the mountains past peak color but still desperately lovely, the children and I climbed into the mountains above Salisbury. The oaks and beeches and chestnut saplings were all oxblood and yellow gold, and up on the ridgetops the lowbush blueberries were in crimson glory. Here and there a late sugar maple was still vibrant orange, and the clouds were steel wool.  

We saw bear oak, red oak, river birch, beech. There were chestnut leaves long as eagle’s feathers, standing brave beneath the receding canopy.  We looked for garnets in the folded rock, all weatherworn with lichen and beards of fern.

For a connoisseur of color this was not an exceptional year in western New England. It was too dry for too long, then the rains fell heavy and the frost was late. Still, if the landscape had a more subtle grandeur, there were accents of brilliant color from a grand old pair of maples framing an old homestead, or drifts of blueberries high on the ridgetops. The dry corn and the deep russet oaks add tone and texture.

Up here in the high country the pulse quickens and the skin cools by turns, and it would not be difficult to imagine that these hills that stretch away to Vermont and toward the sea advance unbroken by road or plow.  

The beavers have been at work up on the Taconic Plateau, at least, as there are ponds where not long ago there used to be streams.  Then again, a century ago the beaver were all trapped out and most of the trees gone as well, a sproutland with the forge gone cold and the sheep no longer on the high slopes.

Sometimes there are paragliders riding the thermals above these ridge lines. On this day there were a lone vulture and a raven.  The sun broke through the clouds and made a patchwork of the forest, the light and shadows stretching out in all directions.

The wild cry of the migrating geese, though, is all but absent on the wind. I remember the great flyway of the Hudson Valley, just over these low mountains to the west, and great rafts of geese thick as warbirds that advanced in their thousands at this time of year.

I have seen a few solitary squadrons, but nothing to rival those of my youth.  I miss them, and the thrill in my mother’s eyes when she turned her face skyward at their calling.

There are some rare wonders that remain elusive.  I have never seen foxfire, that bioluminescence from fungi on rotting bark that sometimes appears at night in our autumn woodlands when conditions are right.  

Several species produce this effect, and it was even used to illuminate the dials on David Bushnell’s Revolutionary War submarine “The Turtle.†Some night, perhaps, when stars bead the branches like cobweb dew, I will see this eldritch light.

Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.

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