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Caution: contagious colors

The Connection is pleased to share this column from the blog of Gettysburg resident John Messeder, an award-winning ecology columnist and social anthropologist. More of John’s stories as well as his photography are available at his website, He may be contacted at

When I was many years younger, I cut wood in summer, pulled it from the forest, then chopped and split it into stove-size pieces and stacked it neatly to dry for winter.

Fall at Buzzards Rock 825x5102 1

Winter in Maine was cold in those days, though as a youngster, I only felt it when there were chores to do. Snowball fights and sledding were not cold. Bringing in firewood and water from the well were frigid activities.

The first winter we were there Daddy bought a thermometer and nailed it outside the living room window. He and Mom took turns keeping the fire going in that new-built but as yet uninsulated cottage, so the babies – my brother and I – wouldn’t freeze.

In the morning, there were little pearls of ice on the shingle nails where they stuck through the walls. One morning, Dad scraped frost from a window and looked at the thermometer. Forty below zero! He was certain the device was broken, so he carried it the three miles back to town, and Larry Eustis’ hardware store. Sure enough, said Mr. Eustis, it is hard to believe that temperature.

Trouble is, he said, he had a whole case of those temperature indicators, and they all pointed to the same 40 below.

Later on, well after I learned about making small stove chunks out of large maple trees, I helped my uncle build houses. It was nothing, in my teen years, to carry two 15-pound cinder blocks on each arm from where they’d been stacked by the delivery man to where Uncle Tom’s friend, Augie, was busy building a fireplace. I also carried rolls of tarpaper, one on each shoulder, up 20 feet of ladder to the roof, where Augie was busy running out of shingles. By the time I’d replenished his supply of tar shingles, he’d be out of nails. Then he’d need more tarpaper.

The periodic cry of, “While you’re resting” flew from Augie’s lips entirely too frequently for a lad who only wished he was resting.

I had no trouble keeping fit. I could swim a mile or so without a problem, hike miles without breaking a sweat. A 60-mile Saturday ride on the one-speed coaster-brake Western Flyer bicycle was fun.

I don’t ride my bicycle very often these days, though I do often tell myself I should. I do spend considerable time wandering in the wood, conversing with the trees and other critters and watching the show that is the changing seasons – from bare trees to shades of green, to the blazing panchromatic plentitude about to decorate the South Mountains I now call home, and summer inexorably withdraws southward, following the hummingbirds and Canada geese to warmer climes.

There are those among the multitudes who likely insist summer’s departure precursors, rather than follows, the geese. They are the same, I submit, who put forth the notion that the wind makes the trees shake, rather than the other way ‘round. One has merely to observe trees in action to realize the fallacy of such thinking. Notice, if you will, the distinct absence of air movement when the trees are still.

Meanwhile, broad, deeply sculpted carpets lay spread among the ribbons of pavement, filling the senses with a display of which any fireworks company would be proud. Human artists, paintbrushes in hand, have labored for hours to create the blaze heralding the end of another season of growth and re-creation.

We will taste the Thanksgiving turkey, grease the Christmas goose, and wait patiently through winter as the trees and grass rest up for another growing season. A few more trips around the yard will remove the vertiginous remains of our oaks and Fire Bushes. Deer will come closer to the house, searching for tasty remnants of once-flowering shrubbery.

The weather prognosticators are beginning to suggest a snowy winter. Something about la Nina being triplets and this being the third sister. For now, I suggest a wander in the Fall Foliage. Caution: It could become addictive.

© John Messeder.

Featured image: Fall at Buzzard’s Rock [John Messeder]

John Messeder is a freelance reporter and photographer who resides in Cumberland Township. He may be contacted at

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W Serfass
W Serfass
1 year ago

Mr. Messeder is certainly a welcome addition here! I welcome his column and thank those of you here for bringing him and his talent with words! I look forward to all of his columns that follow!

John Messeder
John Messeder
1 year ago
Reply to  W Serfass

You’re going to swell my head, but thank you. I’ll do my best to keep it going.

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