It's not just the glorious explosion of leafy colors that distinguish this time of year. Nature has its own rich set of smells that are specific to early autumn; a mellow cornucopia that for whatever reason just makes me feel good.
These scents come earlier to the mountains than to my home near the foot of the mountains. But I don't always recognize when autumn smells arrive at home. They come on so gradually that they are almost seamlessly woven into my awareness. But a trip to the mountains results in an abrupt change that is wonderfully noticeable.
Not everybody likes the spectacle of fall time. A friend tells me that it reminds her that the year is dying away to the bleakness of winter. The same sights and smells that lend a kind a wholeness to me make her feel cold and apprehensive.
But I cannot deny what I feel. I have always loved early autumn.
My drive had already taken me past a ridge of bright yellow quaking aspen nestled among a mountain side of evergreens, making for a striking contrast that almost seems unnatural. Several eye catching gorges I had passed were filled with the whole spectrum of fall colors ranging from deep greens to fiery reds. Yes, there were plenty of dull browns, but for now the brighter colors held sway.
In the dusky light following the setting of the sun, I glanced at an adjacent field where about a dozen animals were peacefully grazing. The two horses were unmistakable, despite the visual flatness of twilight. Then I suddenly realized that the smaller creatures were deer, seemingly unperturbed by my presence.
My vehicle soon came to a stop on the scrabble that makes up the parking area of the scout camp. I climbed out into the mountain air and deeply inhaled the bountiful autumn surrounding me. Many colors were still visible in the dim light. The hillside across the mossy babbling creek ascended on a steep angle painted in myriad colors more beautiful than any human artist could mimic.
Before long it was dark in our tight valley. So dark that, despite the first quarter moon, it was difficult to make out the identities of other people until I was only few feet away from them. The nearly breezeless night soon filled with the sounds of insects, but far fewer that you'd hear at high summer.
I trudged half a mile up a rocky trail with a friend to show him how to get to a part of camp with which he was unfamiliar. As I walked back in solitude, I considered the water running seemingly black in the creek and thought how that for a drought year it seemed like a high volume for this late in the season. I recalled how walking through that canyon at night had given me the creeps when I was younger.
The following afternoon I sat on a hillside watching the dappling of the fall colors. I knew that the sun would still be up for nearly an hour down in the valley as it slipped behind the high walls of the canyon where the scout camp was located. I looked forward to returning home, maybe even with some light to spare. But I had thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the autumn mountains.
Winter will soon fill the mountain canyons with its deep chill, even if snow is sparse. But for now it is enough just to enjoy nature's autumn grandeur.