I was outside with Maddie (6) the other afternoon and there was a gentle breeze. “Daddy, doesn’t it smell like autumn?” she asked.

And it did. In fact, I had just had the same sensation only didn’t mention it because what would a six-year-old know? Obviously much more than we give them credit for.

And I dare say they may know more than we about the nuances of nature, like the change in seasons, or under which rock, and when  to find ring-necked snakes or the joy of being ankle-deep in pluff mud. They know it intuitively, instinctively – there’s an open conduit from their very being to everything they touch, see, smell and imagine. And it takes years of intense, intellectual parsing of the world into tiny tidbits of information that we can get our intellect around to dull and clog that conduit until the world becomes as Thomas Berry warns – “a collection of objects,” rather than “a communion of subjects.”

Fortunately my arrested development is at its peak during the change of seasons especially from summer to fall. Right now the summer afternoons/evenings still go on forever but the sun is already making its move south and the light is starting to change – the reds and oranges are getting heavier and syrupy-er and spill out slowly over the landscape.

And I wonder what could have been in the breeze on this mid-August afternoon to infuse it with autumn. Was it just the respite from the heat – the cooling air itself or were there other hints? The Queen Anne’s lace is done and slowly melting back into the earth as is the ox eye daisy and other summer wildflowers. Maybe this is the scent, or maybe it’s the golden rod and Joe Pye that is beginning to bloom and will be with us till a good hard frost. Maybe the southwesterly breeze brought with it salt from the Gulf and the taste and smell of hurricane season. Whatever it was it was palpable and it was autumn.

There are other signs of autumn as well. I imagine the elk in Cataloochee are rubbing the velvet from their antlers and perhaps jousting a bit, preparing for the fall rut. And wind-birds, those marathon-migrating shorebirds are already slipping through on their way south. Every time it rains I check the Carolinabirds listserv to see what sandpipers, plovers, or other shorebirds have stopped in at the sod farms along Hooper’s Lane in Henderson County. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find a blue-winged teal on Lake Junaluska any day now.

Sure, there will be more heat to endure now and even after the autumnal equinox rolls around in September but if you have the heart and nose of a six-year-old (or maybe a poet) there will be more hints in the wind.

“At no other time (than Autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.” – Rainer Maria Rilke.