I’m visiting my hometown of St. Louis this week, and the trip is bittersweet.

It’s a beautiful time of year here in the heart of the Midwest. I’m having a chance to reconnect with a childhood friend, visit favorite places, and discover what has changed since I moved away about 18 months ago.

But I also lost a first cousin earlier this month, which was a shock to everyone because he had appeared to be in great health. Being back home brings up lots of memories of him and other family members who are gone.

I know there are plenty of people who find autumn sad and depressing… summer’s long, verdant days and warm nights, barbecues and baseball games, fireworks and theme parks have had their day in the sun, and the days are shorter and darker now.

It’s been a difficult year for so many people. Even though I count myself as extraordinarily lucky, it can still be hard to wake up to yet another natural or manmade disaster and not lose sight of the positive.

But I’ve always loved this season, with its colorful trees glowing under cobalt blue or slate gray skies, frosty-crisp air, wood smoke, and long shadows. I find the cycle of seasons comforting… a progression, not an end.

Walking through familiar neighborhoods or in a beloved city park or the well-tended botanical garden, I found plenty of evidence that the world is both solemn and radiantly beautiful.


Share your thoughts, observations, and images of bittersweet autumn in the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Stanley Zimny, dustinphillips,Bhanu Tadinada, Thomas Hawk, Tom Bastin, and Thomas Hawk© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]


Whether you like to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve or Día de Muertos, or maybe both, next week there will be plenty of small, colorful creatures collecting edible goodies. Some will ring doorbells while clad in homemade or purchased finery, others will wear their everyday wardrobe while bouncing on tree limbs, or shuffling through fallen leaves, or excavating frosty soil. But everyone will be in hunter-gatherer mode, in search of binge-worthy treats.

There’s a reason we think of October and November as harvest time, even though many agricultural fields have already been gleaned and tucked in for a long winter’s nap. Autumn is when nut-lovers hit the jackpot.

As Dash and I scanned our local stretch of the Huckleberry Trail looking for nuts—our goal and mantra for today’s journey—I had to remind myself that not all of the trees we were seeing are native to southwestern Virginia. Some were introduced by homeowners who live nearby, or maybe by squirrels who ventured into backyards, then back into the remnant patch of forest near the railroad easement to stash treasure below the forest floor.

The local stalwarts include black walnut (Juglans nigra L.)… it’s flavor some people cherish and others revile. Love or hate ’em, everyone needs to keep their ears open for the sound of these hard green golf balls crashing down from above or risk getting knocked on the noggin’.Shagbark hickory nuts (Carya ovata) are endemic to this region and other parts of North America. They’re a favorite from my own childhood because our next-door neighbor had a towering and prolific tree. Hickory nuts require a lot of coaxing, both to break open the shell and then to pry the meat out of tiny nooks and crannies but, imo, it’s well worth the effort.Honestly, I never really thought about pines as nut-bearing trees until I lived in New Mexico, where the the two-needle piñon pine (Pinus edulis) is a cherished part of the state’s cuisine.  Pine nuts (from a different Pinus spp.) are a familiar ingredient in Italian food, too, and I knew that but somehow failed to make the connection to a pinecone. I’ve not encountered local pine nuts on any menus here in southwest Virginia… maybe the local species aren’t as tasty (to humans), or maybe they’re just too hard to remove from the cone.Acorns, including those from the chestnut oak (Quercus prinus L.) and white oak (Quercus alba L.), are a staple for many wild animals… tree squirrels, of course, but also chipmunks and flying squirrels, as wells as bears, deer, opossums, raccoons, and rabbits. Birds also depend on this nutritious, high-calorie food to make it through the winter, including blue jays, quail, and wood ducks.The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was once the dominant forest species in Virginia, but most of these trees were killed over the course of a couple of decades when the chestnut blight fungus was introduced, accidentally, in the early 1900s. Researchers continue to experiment with resistant varieties, hoping to return these majestic giants to their rightful home. I keep hoping to spot one… even a stump sprout would make me wildly happy.

Do you have a favorite wild nut? Share your memories and photos in the comments section!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Alan Wolf, pepperberryfarm, Laurie HulseyChris Luczkow, Bob Travis, Greg Wagoner, NatureServe, and Rachid H© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]


It’s been a relatively lush summer here in southwestern VA, with periodic storms and even a couple of gully-washers, but overall nothing too extreme. Thankfully. Not everyone in our part of the planet has been so lucky.

In most cases, Dash and I have been able to wait out the precipitation and still get in our daily walks.  I’ve grown to love the sights and smells of a just-pasted summer storm… the water churning down Stroubles Creek as we pass by on our way to the Huckleberry Trail… the mesmerizing patterns in the water as it rushes or meanders over grass and sidewalks and into the street… liquid beads forming on leaves and branches, forming concentric circles in the puddles below…

In the evenings we’re also likely to see lovely colors and shapes reflecting from the surface of standing or moving water…

Of course, it’s also fun to watch the way songbirds, butterflies and moths, children, dogs, runners, and cyclist react as they approach a puddle on the asphalt path… is it shallow or deep?

Storms can be an inconvenience when I don’t have an umbrella handy or I’m rushing to get somewhere, but when I take the time to slow down and look around, I can see the beauty of a rainy day.


How do you enjoy spending a rainy day, or the time after the clouds depart? Share your thoughts, experiences, and photos in the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: danna § curious tanglesIb AarmoMichele Dorsey Walfred~Izee~by~the~Sea~, Walter A. Aueellenm1, Akulatraxas, and Theresa Martell.]