The signs of autumn are all around

By Dennis Chastain
Special to The Courier

I am going to confess right up front that I absolutely love the fall of the year. The only way I can make it through the long hot summer is the promise that eventually the air will cool, the leaves will start showing some signs of color, apples and scuppernongs will show up for sale at the Pickens Flea Market, and men in camouflage will be seen leaning on the hood of a truck planning out their deer or bear season.

My calendar says that Sept. 22 is the autumnal equinox, the official changing of the seasons, but I don’t trust my calendar anymore. The seasons are so screwed up these days that I don’t believe that we have actually turned the corner until I start seeing the signs of nature pointing in that direction.

whole1Just in the last two weeks I have seen the first monarch butterflies. The cloudless sulphur butterflies have been drifting through this area for a month. The poplars, black gums and sourwoods are all showing their initial blushes of red and gold. And the squirrels are starting to cut pine cones for their tiny but tasty seeds. These are all perennial, never fail, signs of good things to come.

To the hunter, the beginning of autumn is the most exciting time of the year. The bucks are out there rubbing the soft velvet from their antlers and will soon be getting rutty. White oak acorns are starting to drop, and bears and wild hogs are scarfing them up like a vacuum cleaner gone wild. Doves can be seen descending on grain fields in great numbers. The prospect and promise of the upcoming hunting seasons, each in its own time, is just around the corner. Now is the time to plan and prepare and to dream big. All things are possible in September.

Fishermen know that the cooler overnight temps help bring lunker largemouths, schools of eager crappies and the Lake Jocassee trout up from the depths. It will not be long before the hoards of jet skis and party boats will wane and the bass boats with rod tips waving in the breeze will once again reign supreme on the upcountry’s lakes and reservoirs.

But it is not only hunters and fishermen who celebrate the changing of the season. Hikers know that the lower humidity and cooler autumnal temperatures put a spring in your step. You can now go farther and faster without ending up exhausted, soaked in sweat, and dreading the walk back to the car. Mosquitoes and no-see-ums become less of a problem, and it actually makes sense to have a warming campfire at night.

Check out an article I wrote on the benefits of walking in the woods in the January/February 2016 issue of South Carolina Wildlife magazine. This link should get you there: Or you can simply Google “Dennis Chastain SC Wildlife walking in the woods.”

Cyclists know that they can also extend their range for the next several months. It now seems perfectly reasonable to ride 40 or 50 miles in a day. And the scenery along the way changes on an almost daily basis.

Wildflower enthusiasts are chomping at the bit to get out there and enjoy their fall favorites blooming in their full glory. Asters and Black-eyed Susans will soon dominate the landscape. The Virgin’s bower, Joe-Pye weed, Crown beard, New York ironweed and a number of richly hued morning glories are already flowering all over the place.

Birders are watching for the first signs of the songbirds and other wild fowl gathering up in flocks as they prepare for their annual migrations. Armed with high-powered binoculars and long-range camera lenses, a growing number of “hawk watchers” are anxiously awaiting the impressive kettles of hawks and other raptors that put on quite a show as they drift past the highest peaks of our southern mountains. I predict that Sassafras will soon surpass Caesar’s Head as a popular place to observe this annual avian wonder of nature. Get ready. It’s coming.

And even if you don’t fit into any of the above categories of outdoor enthusiasts, there is something in the great outdoors for you. Trust me — for a number of reasons, it is to your advantage to find a way to get out of the house and enjoy the timeless beauty, the awe-inspiring grandeur, and the peace and tranquility of the natural world.

The city of Pickens is evolving into more and more of an outdoor-oriented town. A few blocks from Main Street you can stroll along the very pleasant hiking trails at Jaycee Park. Or you can dust off that old balloon-tired bicycle in the garage and take a ride along the increasingly popular Doodle Trail. Or you could just amble down some of the oak-shrouded streets in the older neighborhoods of our historic village, and maybe stop to talk with someone you have not seen in a long while.

Still not convinced to get off the sofa and get out into the great outdoors? Stop by our new local outdoors outfitter store on West Main Street to scan the shelves and talk to the good folks inside. Who knows, you might find that there is some kind of new outdoor adventure in your future; maybe something like kayaking, paddle boarding, bird watching, jogging or hiking and camping. Above and beyond everything else, take a few minutes, or an hour or two, to celebrate the changing of the seasons. The transition from summer to fall only comes once a year.

Dennis Chastain is an award-winning outdoor writer,
interpretive naturalist and modern-day explorer.
He has been writing feature articles for South Carolina
Wildlife magazine and other outdoor publications for more than 20 years.