Have you heard them? Shrill, clear whistling from the tree tops, sometimes one alone and sometimes a chorus. Spring peepers' last hurrah as they begin to prepare for winter, no longer in the marshes but clinging to trunks and branches high above us all. Or, how about the raucous raspy strident calls of migrating blue jays that descend upon us in late September, hungry for the acorns that our woodland oaks provide. Or the soft and muffled "wick, wick, wicka" at dusk of restless wood thrushes preparing for their long journey to central America, any day now.
Have you seen them yet? The white-throated sparrows, who arrive every mid-October and the juncos who arrive soon after. Or, perhaps the purple finches who have chosen to feed in this area of southern Maryland for now. Bright red-purple males and grey females with a distinctive white eyebrow stripe, unlike our resident house finches, have come down from the far north to spend time with us, and whether they will stay the winter or ultimately move on is not for us to know.
Have you noticed their absence? The antagonistic migrating hummingbird numbers abruptly decreased overnight a few nights ago, and now I see only solitary individuals, dawdling at flowers and feeders until somehow recognizing when their bodies carry enough fat to sustain them on their journey. A few cricket species still sing on, but the true katydids and cicadas are silent, no longer calling from their summer perches in the trees, their breeding season accomplished. The lovely wood warblers, flycatchers and vireos who arrived last spring to bear and raise their families are gone now, excepting a few stragglers, and already I miss the melodies that were my constant companions these last few months.
And what of the changes in the plant life around us? The winterberry and dogwoods's berries that were still green a couple of weeks ago are now bright red, signaling their nutrients to passing birds. The last flowers of the season, New England and aromatic aster, orange coneflower, and the ever present white frost aster, continue to bloom in riotous color, signaling nectar and pollen to late season bees and butterflies like the buckeye, and clouded sulfur and monarchs, all still searching for food.
As we notice these changes, even if we haven't really realized that we have noticed them, we are being invited into a knowing that goes beyond what our busy, technological society deems important. Every day, every season, every moment, we are invited into wonder yet again, and into appreciation and into love for that which surrounds and sustains us. And, in so doing, we come to realize that we don't really need calendars to know what time it is, after all.