Fall is canning season at the cabin. One of Jan’s specialties is chow, an eastern specialty she had never heard of till venturing to Nova Scotia a dozen years ago. Now she is a master chow-maker herself, and you don’t have to take my word for it. My mother, herself an artisan, will attest that Jan’s brand is second to none. A batch starts with ten pounds of green tomatoes, five of onions. I help to chop; otherwise I just stand back and watch the show unfold.
Now is also prime time for unhurried forest rambles. We wandered the Big Hill Road on a sublimely quiet sunny day. It may have been a real road long ago but nowadays it is a barely discernible track flanked by a pioneer’s old moss-covered stone wall. In spring these woods are alive with birdsong. The woods are far quieter in early October but not silent. Kinglets chittered occasionally. A soft chuck alerted us to a small group of migrant hermit thrushes pausing to refuel on their passage to Guatemala. A ruffed grouse flushed when we approached too close. In Victoria a gang of Canada geese wouldn’t get a glance; here they are a little more unusual so the flotilla on Dalem Lake warranted a look.
We stopped for a little lunch hoping to reencounter the barred owl we chanced upon a year ago. No luck this time so we amused ourselves identifying the hardwoods visible from where we sat: American beech, paper birch, red maple, trembling aspen. The trees are turning colour, none more splendidly than the maples, some already as red as a Mountie’s dress tunic. Dragonflies went about their business around the lake edges – big blue brutes and exquisite carmine damselflies. Two kinds of caterpillars – the lime-green variety and the orange-and-black one – of the sort we call ‘woolly bears’ regularly crossed our path. Each of them looked intent on getting who-knows-where. A real bear has been seen in the neighbourhood of late – just across the road two days ago – but we didn't encounter Bruno.
Mushrooms are abounding in the woods, most of them beautiful to look at. Some are as tasty to the palate as to the eye but we gather only those we are sure of, so we can live to tell about it. There is more. We disclose to no one the whereabouts of a choice patch of cranberries near the lake. It is already plain we shall have a bumper crop this year, ready for gathering in a fortnight. They will wind up across the country, in Victoria, garnishing our winter porridge.