Clark Hollow Ramblings: The smell of the forest in the fall

We rode up to the little cabin the other day to see what needed attention this time. The lady who lives with me mentioned the wonderful smell of the woods in the fall. A couple of days later I headed out early in the morning looking for a deer, and we had had a little shower sometime during the night. The smell of the forest was almost intoxicating. There was the trace of something fermenting. I’ve had homemade wine that didn’t smell that good. Heck, I’ve had store-bought wine that didn’t smell that good.

The hunting hasn’t been much this year, so far. First, I couldn’t find any deer. Then, when I did see one, it was too far away or in too much brush for a good shot. Then, when one did get what looked like close enough, I couldn’t hit it. So, that’s the way it has gone so far. If there are any deer out there, they don’t have a lot to worry about from me.

I will tell you what I saw that morning after the rain shower. It was just after sunrise. There were two or three massive white oak trees, just about 50 yards from where I had put up my tree stand. (Some of my forestry friends call them marsh oaks.) This huge bird sailed silently through the woods and perched on a dead limb of one of the oaks. It took me a few moments to identify what kind of owl it was, because it was a cloudy morning and the light was not the best.

At first, because of its size, I thought it had to be a great horned owl, but look as I might, I could not see any ear tufts. As my head was turned in the opposite direction I heard a sound in the leaves and saw the owl come up from the ground and perch in a small hickory tree, not 30 yards from me. It was a barred owl, and he was probably the biggest one I had ever seen. He looked to be at least 18 inches from head to tail. And the eyes were so black it looked like you were looking into two dark pits.

But he had apparently struck out in his hunting efforts, as well; he had nothing that I could see in his beak or talons. Then the crows saw him, and it seemed every living crow in the county was flying around and making a horrible fuss. He didn’t stand for much of that. Again, as silent as a ghost, he took off for the white oak grove. One of the largest of the trees appeared to have been hit by lightning in the distant pass. There was a deep, dark, almost black, channel up most of the length of the tree.

That owl sailed right towards the top of that dark channel and disappeared up into what must have been a hollow place in the tree. I thought at the time maybe he had a nest up there, but it seemed to be too late in the year for him to have a nest with little ones. In a minute or two, the crows left, and out he came, to perch on another limb and watch the forest floor.

He must have seen me move or something else distracted him, and off he went, as silently as he came. I was standing there, saying my blessings for having seen the owl, and I caught sight of something coming down the same path I had walked in on. At first, I thought it must be a coyote. A few days earlier, I had seen a huge one, almost black, in the adjoining field.

As the four-legged critter sneaked along the path I got a good look at a beautiful bobcat. Again, not making a sound, he slipped through the woods looking for some hapless squirrel or chipmunk or whatever he might have had a taste for that morning. He was a good-sized, fully grown cat, and I could even see his little curved-up bobtail.

I have stomped around in the fields and woods of Rappahannock County for a lot of years, and I am still surprised when I see a bobcat. They are not rare, they are just terribly elusive.

The fall garden continues to surprise. We have been eating the best radishes and leaf lettuce we have grown in a long time. I also set out some broccoli plants. They are looking pretty good, but I don’t know if they will have time to develop into something edible. I’ll let you know. I had one of the last tomatoes with my supper last night. It is about the end of the road for those beauties, as well.

It is time to get the old wood stove cleaned up, and put away a few apples for the winter. If the hunting doesn’t get any better, I may turn into a vegetarian. By the way, that word, “vegetarian,” is derived from an old Native American word that, loosely translated, means “bad hunter.”

Stay well, and enjoy the beautiful seasons of life.

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