October is nature's last hurrah, I think. By month's end uncountable tons of leaves blanket the forest floors of Cleveland Metroparks, only to return as food for their maker next year and nourishment for the splendor of spring wildflowers. November is a gray and gritty month, filled with bare limbs and spitting snow and sleet and rain. Those who love spring, summer and fall have given up by the end of October, the warmth of another year quickly becoming a distant memory.
It is incumbent on us, therefore, to hie ourselves off to the field to find the last vestiges of this otherwise magnificent year in the month of color and sunshine and crisp autumn days we call October. We will not speak here of xanthophyll and its colorful friends. That might be interesting to some, but hurry we must before the leafy horde that they color flee the trees that bore them and are just another memory. October is a month of walks and hikes and strolls and sitting, watching while the best month of the year tosses its past away.
Autumn Forests at Cleveland Metroparks
There are three best places to be in October, and you cannot count work among them. First are the forests of Cleveland Metroparks — the great forests of the uplands of North Chagrin, Brecksville, Hinckley, Bedford and Rocky River reservations, and the south-facing slopes of the magnificent valleys of Bedford Gorge. There the maples, ashes, hickories, beeches and oaks grow strong and tall, as they have grown for a century or more, some for as many as five. The trees there burst forth with the bounty of deciduous leaves each spring, and add another girdle of growth, send out their new shoots and branches, and mix the minerals of the soil with the water of the earth and sky and with the great magic called photosynthesis, take sunlight and form complex carbohydrates and sugars and life from things that before were not alive.
If you don't believe in miracles, study photosynthesis for a time. Miracles live all around you. They are plants, and in the fall their leaves turn reds and yellows and golds and browns for a time, then throw away their leaf-factories to make fuel for the next year, and they rest. Walk through those great forests this month, and listen to the leaves crunch beneath your boots and inhale the smells of the glory of those fallen leaves underfoot. You will remember longforgotten moments of other autumns and other trails and other forests of your childhood as you walk. The autumn forest becomes your personal time machine. All it takes is a walk in October.
Autumn Meadows in Cleveland Metroparks
The second of three places are the meadows and fields of Cleveland Metroparks. Explore the upper meadow at Garfield Park, the southern meadow off Snowville Road at Brecksville, the open fields along River Road in North Chagrin and South Chagrin's Jackson Field or Old Field, and the larger meadows of southern Mill Stream Run Reservation. There, the fragrance of warm drying grasses and forbs fills the air, and the golds and yellows of stems and leaves create the illusion of walking waist-high through a yellow ocean. The first migrating tree sparrows and white-throated sparrows call from sheltered places, and overhead the red-tailed hawks still soar on the warm thermals lifting from the sun-drenched field. A few hitchhiking burrs are a small price to pay for an afternoon's adventure on one of the last remaining warm days of fall.
Autumn Streams of Cleveland Metroparks
The last of three special places to visit this October are the streams of Cleveland Metroparks. Not the rivers, like the Rocky or Chagrin or Cuyahoga or Euclid Creek this time, but the small creeks and headwater streams that feed those more famous rivers. There, the gently falling red, orange and yellow leaves barely make a trace upon the slowly moving water as they fall, and when you find a comfortable place to watch, the parade of autumn color becomes horizontal rather than vertical, and the stream brings a kaleidoscope of leafy designs awaiting your approval. Here and there, the water creates eddies and pools where the leaves accumulate, and a puzzle picture of primary colors, changing ever so slightly every moment, waits for your discovery. The stream that makes Bridal Vail Falls in Bedford is a special spot for this, as is Buttermilk Creek in North Chagrin, Mill Creek in Garfield Park, Porter Creek in Huntington, and the numerous creeks of Hinckley Reservation.
The best, most memorable moments in the outdoors can never be predicted in advance. They simply happen, at a special moment when you and the elements of nature meet in a special place in space and time, often never to be captured just the same again. They will not happen at home, or in the car, or in the mall, or at the computer screen. Not a single one of those places will ever touch the being of our souls, but if you take a little time this month, this grand and glorious autumn spectacle that is October, I can guarantee that nature will.