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Autumn's wonder awaits

Sep 5, 2013 - By Betty Starks Case

There is food for the soul resting at your feet

You might think I'd been alerted to the wonders of nature by historian Ken Burns's great PBS series on America's national parks. I watch them with awe each time they're run.

Or by the recent threat of fire to the giant Sequoia trees in California, believed to be the largest living organism on Earth.

Both of the above deserve and receive my rapt attention. But the extremes of nature's wonder extend so far in opposite directions, I don't want to miss one aspect.

So before we begin anticipating the gorgeous fall colors when the first frost hits, have you noticed the enchanting shapes of various plants at your feet?

On my morning walk a few days ago, I noticed a neighbor had cut down a stand of tall ornamental grass in the front yard. Some of the grass had fallen into the street and the soft, waving seed heads -- well -- simply waved at me.

I picked up a half dozen of the fluffy heads from the street, carried them home and selected a pretty, apricot-colored vase where they shaped themselves into a graceful silver fan on our kitchen island, swaying softly with every draft from the air conditioner or an open door.

I really should call Sharon and tell her the sleeping version of her beautiful grasses still pleases the eye and heart of her neighbor.

A few days later, while on my morning walk I looked down to see a common milkweed pod lying open before me on the path.

"Oh, how lovely," I exclaimed to no one but the milkweed pod, a couple of small birds, and maybe God himself, who, I presume, appreciates my response to the beauty in a waning summer season.

I lifted the pale green half-pod gently from the trail, ever so careful not to disturb the puff of delicate, pearly sacks clinging like a silken umbrella to the top of the two-inch pod, each small, oval-shaped puff crowned with a little brown seed, awaiting lift-off by a passing breeze.

Our summer flight in Riverton's Cloud Kisser balloon drifted to mind. Recalling the carefree flight of soaring the skies to an unknown destination, I felt a tender kinship to the tiny seeds.

Now that I've interrupted nature's process as if I had some right, I suppose I'm obligated to free the fuzzy little flyers to complete their journey. First though, I'll enjoy their fragile beauty for a few days on our coffee table.

Then there's the dried arrangement of wild oats, generally considered a nuisance weed by farmers, adorning a small table in our living room. I'm convinced the empty little seed pods dangling from a plain stem exhibit nothing less than pure grace.

Each fall as weeds and grasses begin to dry I'm hit with this sudden awareness of nature's latest art form. Of course, I love the color of sun shining through autumn leaves, wet snow clinging to trees and fences in mysterious shapes, and the glow of icicles dripping from the eaves.

But if we overlook the art of shape and form, aren't we missing an important part of nature's lesson on the beauty of our world?

A man named Cecil Laird reminds us, "God doesn't have to put his name on a label in the corner of a meadow (like other artists) because nobody else makes meadows."

So annually, as if stricken by a fever that bids me gather the last of nature's plant art before the snow falls, I ignore a sniffly nose to explore and select armfuls of shapely weeds for a winter bouquet. You can buy them in stores, but you deprive yourself of the outdoor experience of hunting the roadsides, hills and fields for your own creative selection of autumn's sculptures.

Then there's the patch of reeds I found in Idaho that curled into script-like letters of the alphabet. There, I picked my initials as easily as a child might spoon his own from a bowl of alphabet soup.

This is getting not only eerie, but personal.

With that thought in mind, I suppose my inclination to note and search for the smaller, often overlooked artistry of nature was born in early childhood on the South Dakota prairie lands. There, our father sought healing in wide-open spaces after years of fighting for his country in Germany and France in World War II. And there, our mother taught my two sisters and me to appreciate "rubies in the sand."

In other words, if you didn't see the beauty in a wild sunflower or dandelion, or a ruby in an ant-pile, you could come up short on food for the soul.

In Wyoming, however, such nourishment is plentiful, whether your eyes reflect the distant blue mountains or the surprises you find resting quietly at your feet on a brisk morning walk.

Get out there if you can. Autumn's wonder awaits.

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