September’s Certainties

There are the certainties of September, a month by grace of the calendar but a season by its own insistence. Now comes the time of pause and slow transition, a time neither new nor old, growth nor completion. Summer nor Autumn.

There is the certainty of fire in the maples, now evident in the coals and brands of the sumacs. The coinage of October is now being minted in the elms, and the ripeness of the grape is forecast in the big New England asters, purple as amethysts. The certainty of Indian Summer’s mists is there in the thistedown and the finespun silk of the milkweed. The frosts to come are foreshadowed in the froth of small white asters at every roadside.

The crows now know the certainty of their own tenure and proclaim it loudly. The jays no longer make any secret of their presence or their coming inheritance. The cricket and the katydid tell the darkness the certainty of time and its implacable demands. The whippoorwill and the owl exchange confidence in the night, reluctant companions in the slowly shifting eternity of starlight.

There is the certainty of sun and evening light, which mark the time of change in the breadth of a shadow, the depth of dawn and dusk. Two more weeks and the compass can set its needle by the morning sun. Yesterday’s new moon will wax toward the fullness that will double the certainty of the equinox.

September makes its own commitments, abides by its own inevitabilities in the decisions of time.

–Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons

If I were to make a short-list of favorite nature writers, Hal Borland would probably be at the top of it. I love the way his writing so often sounds like poetry, yet gently teaches me things about astronomy and botany and phenology.

Do you have a favorite nature writer? Can we share short-lists?


19 thoughts on “September’s Certainties”

  1. Dave: Hey! Thanks for the reminder. The only thing I’d read by him were his essays in The Geography of Childhood.

    I’ll have to find some of his other books once I’ve made my way through the current backlog.

  2. A guy out here name of William Dietrich. He got a Pulitzer writing about the Exxon Valdez for the Seattle Times and has written many articles in defense of our Skagit Valley and the Puget Sound.

    Some of your Michigan readers may remember/know of the late Gwen Frostic – she had, I think, MS and produced beautiful, simple block prints of simple nature scenes, like a bird on a tree limb. Many of the prints were assembled into little books with nice appropriate verses or paragraphs. They have been gifts throughout Michigan for many many years!

  3. There are many of my favorite Indian writers who describe nature so well & M.T.Vasudevan Nair is my fav. Hope the name may sound new to you. But.. 🙂
    Good post Keep it up 🙂

  4. STUNNING writing by Borland (yours isn’t chopped liver, either!)…Looks like I picked a fine night to drop in. I’m going over to my favorite indie bookstore in Atlanta, Bound to Be Read, and peruse the shelves for more from this masterful writer/teacher.

    Merci mille fois!

  5. Rabbit’s Guy: Thanks for the names… I’ll add them to my list.

    Pablo: I have such a hard time finding Borland books.

    Sue Hubbell is a favroite of mine, too. A Country Year, especially and I loved her books about bee-keeping. Plus, she had that great bug book… I forget what it’s called. Broadsides from the Other Orders, maybe?

    (i might’ve made that up)

    Ruth: Yeah.. he’s great.

    Nina: I don’t know her. (Another for my list – thanks!)

    Heather: Yeah. Hey! Email me about Cape May, okay?

    Sekhar: Thanks… I wonder how easy that may be to find?

    John: Now you’ve made me jealous. What bookstore?

    Jayne: lol! Gotta keep you on your toes!

    La reine: Maybe you’ll have better luck than me. The local library has a couple, but Borland’s books aren’t meant to be read at one sitting, I don’t think. Plus I need another excuse to buy more books.


    Susan: Of course you’d say that.


    Actually, I’m surprised no one mentioned her sooner. I wonder if it not just that we’re treated to her writing on a daily basis, plus we’ve birded with her, so maybe she doesn’t come to mind right away when we think of those famous-author-types.

  6. Yes, let’s talk cape may. I’ve been looking, and can’t find your email listed. Newbie here. Where do I find it?

    Wayne, PA

  7. Oh, do we have to pick just one? I really like Scott Weidensaul’s books. Also Tim Flannery. I own virtually every one by both authors. I also enjoy David Quammen’s natural history books, and, of course, Julie Zickefoose. Many other individual books, too, but those four are the authors where I’ve enjoyed everything they’ve written.

  8. Seabrooke: Scott Weidensaul is another favorite of mine. I’ve resisted buying his latest until I get caught up.

    Tim Flannery and David Quammen I’ve not heard of.

    I’ve gotten some great suggestions from everyone – thanks!

  9. Seabrooke beat me to Weidensaul, but I’d add RTP to the list as well, along with Zickefoose. Just got Hal Borland’s “Beyond Your Doorstep” at a used bookstore for a buck! I can’t wait to start reading it.

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