As I sat this morning at my desk, reading, I found myself straying a few times away from the words on the page to the sounds of life around me. It is a cool day, much too cool for this early in September; much too cool to say that the feel of autumn is in the air: it is the air, today.
I have the windows open and there is a continual rustling of the trees from a slight, steady breeze. Acorns are dropping, leaving gentle pings and pits as they hit the roof, driveway, and ground beneath the trees. There are already enough leaves and tree detritus — twigs, seeds, pieces of bark — on the drive that it crunches when a car pulls up. The buckeyes and black walnuts are falling too, bombarding the ground and, more often, the roof with the ferocity of a rebel lobbing grenades.
The hummingbirds are still here, but I think they must surely be wondering why it is so cool, as if they’re internal alarm systems failed to tell them to fly south a few days ago, confused that there are still flowers with sweet nectar. Are they worried that they have yet to fill themselves in preparation for their long migratory journey to Mexico? They seem to be chirping more today, and when hovering, their wings buzz at a different vibration, as if both to ward off the chill as well as because of it.
When I stepped outside, I witnessed something that I’ve never seen before: a squirrel falling from a tree branch high above the ground. I was watching two squirrels, squawking at each other, one giving the other chase, wanting the large nut the other held in his jowls. Suddenly, on a branch too slim to support him in a heavier wind, he lost his footing and fell to the ground with a thud. The tree was too far into the woods for me to see the ground where the squirrel lay. I can only assume that a small creature could not survive the impact of a 60 -70 foot freefall at a velocity so quick that he didn’t have time to screech. The other squirrel stopped. For a moment there was no movement in the trees. The second squirrel tracked back a few feet, stood for a moment, then squeaking in a quieter register, turned and continued across several trees, jumping assuredly from branch to branch as he worked his way up & down the treetops, across half the small woods, nut still firmly in his grip, and disappeared from my sight as he continued on towards his drey.
I have no idea how animals feel or cope with death. I don’t think that we can impart any kind of knowledge or emotion to them; we simply cannot know their universe. We can only surmise what they might think or feel, and, falling short of the mark, assign them attributes based on our own experience. But, I think that all of nature, even the trees, is sentient, each in his own way. It was over 100 a few days ago; today only 60. Somehow — but probably not because of the unusually cool temperature — the squirrels and hummingbirds and acorns all know that soon the season will change. Life changes before us. I regret that some days I do not notice it at all.