By the start of November many people consider the fall season to be over, but it is really only halfway done today. Today is a cross-quarter day, when the Earth in its orbit is halfway between an equinox and a solstice. This motion makes the sun appear to move across the stars and now appears halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.
Traditionally this cross-quarter day is associated with the Druid holiday of Samhain, many of whose traditions have morphed and are remembered today as Halloween. Originally the Druid priests would mark the position of the sun and celebrate on the actual cross-quarter day, but the date became fixed on the last day of October when the Gregorian calendar was implemented. The Druids marked the day by observing the constellation the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, and looking for it to rise at sunset and be at its highest point at midnight. This day is also associated with the traditional Japanese holiday Ritou.
By this time most of the maple trees have dropped their leaves and the brilliant oranges and reds are pretty much gone until next September. But this “second autumn” has highlights of its own. The oaks are coming into their peak color with earth-tone russets, maroons and golden-browns. They turn entire hillsides into a carpet painted with this rich palette of harvest colors.
The light penetrates into the forest better now, and the low sun angle means pleasing light lasts longer in to the morning and begins sooner in the afternoon, lighting up the late autumn trees. The few individual maples that remain in color stand out brilliantly in this light.
With many leaves gone, it is easier to see birds again and northern birds such as juncos and white-throated sparrows show up. The sight of a cardinal on the bare branches brings on a holiday feeling. November is a great time to get out into the woods.
The photos that follow were taken on the traditional Halloween date but I decided to wait until the actual cross-quarter date to post. Most were taken at the Keep Homestead Museum in Monson, one was from the overlook at Flynt Park, next to the museum trails.
The yellow fungus is witches butter, a jelly fungus, likely Tremella. Although we think of fungi as decomposers in wood, members of this genus are actually parasitic on other fungi found in decaying wood – perhaps a fitting habit for this Halloween photo. The common name witches butter can also refer to Exidia, a black jelly fungus.