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Nov. 9, 2003

Junie stopped and froze on the trail ahead; so I stopped and listened, too, but didn't hear anything. As she continued to concentrate on whatever had caught her attention, my thoughts turned elsewhere. I had decided this would be the last photo hike for this fall. Now I know Junie loves to go on hikes and enjoys our time in the woods, but, gentle reader, she does not get all sentimental about it as I do. And I was getting sentimental as I stood there on the trail with my dog on this cloudy and cold fall afternoon, when I finally started hearing what Junie was listening to. The sound would last a second or two and then pause, then start again, louder each time. After several repetitions of this sequence, the sound seemed to be coming from overhead, and I looked up and saw that it was the flapping of a bird's wings as it flew from branch to branch.

One of the things I like about the woods, although I sometimes take it for granted, is that it is usually so quiet that the loudest thing you hear -- and you actually can hear it, unlike in town -- can be the flapping of a bird's wings. And in this case it wasn't a large bird either. The whooshing from a large bird like a buzzard can be positively startling.

I guess I should have been more careful what I wished for last week. After weeks of 80-degree weather, the last few days have brought cloudy skies and highs in the 40s. But the forecast for the coming week is calling for more seasonable temperatures, with highs in the 50s and 60s, and I'd say that's just like baby bear's soup, not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

I've enjoyed the colder weather, though, and as a matter of fact took advantage of it by using some vacation time to make an extra weekend in the middle of the week. Wednesday may have been the most productive photo day of the fall as we visited a stunning area of maples on Bidville Road on the slopes of Wakefield Mountain that I'd been monitoring for color since the beginning of autumn.

Thursday was not as productive, though just as much fun, as we hiked from Ragtown Road down the OHT and ended up at Train Trestle Falls. We arrived at the trailhead just as it was getting light that morning, and as I was pulling gear out of the car, we heard the crack and crash of a falling tree. About a half a mile in we came across what may have been the tree that we heard crashing. It seemed to be recently fallen, but I might have passed it without noticing except for the fact that the impact of the falling tree had driven a three-foot piece of one of its limbs into the ground in the trail tread, which is where I found it still upright sticking out of the ground. And we're talking about rocky old 'Zarky ground here, not some butter-soft bottomland; so the force of the impact must have been considerable. And then I found another limb, this one about six feet long, similary driven into the ground a few feet away.

Saturday was a fruitless quest for color as we drove up and down and all over the Ozark National Forest, along Mill Creek Road, Mountain Crest, Bidville, and Fly Gap Roads, all along the valley of the Mulberry, up Highway 21, a little way on Arbaugh Road, and finally along 16 on the way home, and didn't find any color worth shooting anywhere. As a matter of fact, I had pretty much decided that Saturday would be the last of the color expeditions this fall, until I remembered an area on the OHT over near Richland Creek that I hadn't visited yet this year, I guess mainly because it's about a two and a half hour drive over there for me, an area of maples near Dry Creek that stretches along the trail for about half a mile.

So we decided to give it one more shot on Sunday. There was still color there, but it sort of resembled the paper decorations on the morning after the party. I had trouble finishing out the last few frames of a roll, and had to pull out the long lens to isolate small patches of color to do that much.

So that's it for the fall. I'm sure there's color out there somewhere, but we're finished looking for it this year, and it's back to our usual hiking agenda, scouting hikes with Junie, and trail hikes with Sophie so she can get out and pull her trigger. I've missed having Sophie along these last four or five weeks, and I know she's missed getting out. In fact she's been asking me very kindly lately, can't she please come with me this time? So we're looking forward to it.

And we'll be watching for the snow and ice and fog, and rain -- especially rain,to get the streams flowing again -- this winter so we can haul out the camera gear again.