Sermons of Birds

Sermons of Birds: Forest in Autumn Courtesy, HmsFree, Photographer
Forest in Autumn
Courtesy, HmsFree, Photographer
There is a story I like of an old Zen master who one day was asked to speak wisdom to his acolytes as they were sitting outside. He obliged. He rose and walked to the front of the students. He waited a moment to think carefully about his words, opened his mouth, and then just as he was about to speak, a bird in a nearby tree sang its beautiful warbling song. The master did not interrupt but instead simply listened and waited until the song finished, and the bird had flown away. When it had, he finally spoke: “The sermon has been delivered,” he acknowledged, and took his seat once more.

I think about this story often and dwell on its themes. The true master who is the truest student. The songbird who speaks truth without language. The wisdom elevated by listening to the world without ego.

This time of year, I try to take the lesson of the Zen master and listen to the autumn world around me, the softening sounds of my time on earth. I take pause and hear the breeze which rustles box elders scarlet and shivers aspens gold. The wind which blankets the land and grows it rosy before winter’s snowy slumber.

The birds’ notes, the bearers of great truths, have shifted from their summer selves, too. No longer do they sing for love, but instead call for companions as they find flocks to blunder between fermented crabapple trees with, and telegraph where the good black oil seed is for the benefit of all who husk germ.

I find solidarity with their industry, for I believe we all come from the same inner place. They, doing what is good and right, and I as well. I, too, likely like you, get a hankering, a reckoning to winterize, to preserve, to stock up like a tree’s fattening roots, swollen full with the liquor of next spring’s buds and blossoms. I do it through crisp cider, hot corn chowder, steamed cans, jammed jars, strong mulled toddies, and wool. These are my fruits and fat stores. These are my natural inclinations.

I take from the story of the Zen master, too, that we are all on the same team. Just as the master understood to defer a message of truth to the birds, we can all recognize the truth in what autumn fills us all with: that drive of readiness for spring by ways of winter. That our season of without only can be because of seasons of with, and that our seasons of bounty can only be through the rest with which we are pulled in winter.

So this autumn, I encourage you to listen like the Zen master to the world around you. When it whispers, “put on a sweater and sip hot drinks by the hearth,” do so. When it bellows, “can and jam all of the things for winter is coming and the taste of summer is that season’s delight,” do so as well.

And when the world says, “listen,” in beautiful birdsong, do so, and know that you sing, too, by being who you are to your core.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
Images: Courtesy Pixabay, HmsFree, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center,
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster,

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon,

The Subtle Peaces in Times Like These

Cedar Waxwing Courtesy Pixabay tdfugere, photographer
Cedar Waxwing
Courtesy Pixabay
tdfugere, photographer
In times like these, I enjoy the mid-autumn sunshine. The trees now shed of their light-hungry leaves, let brightness again seep to the porous earth’s floor. The naked branches bring back views of the mountains, unveil the cedar waxwings and robins swarming the crabapples in their lust for ferment, and let sounds roll uninterrupted across the valley floor and across me, too.

It seems that, only when there is snow in the mountains does the sunshine lift me highest as it does in mid-autumn. That juxtaposition of winter’s edging deep sleep with the echoes of the year’s warmth, brings a mellow cascade of calm. It is the calm of a cup of hot tea one holds while hearing the storm roll past just outside, just beyond smoke-bellowed chimneys. That peace of mid-autumn sunshine, though, is only a single note in the chorale of the day here, and season still churning forward unto ultimately itself again.

Great Basin Sparse Vegetation, Courtesy USGS, David Susong, Photographer
Great Basin Sparse Vegetation, Courtesy USGS, David Susong, Photographer
In times like these, I can look forward to other subtle peaces yet on their way, each their own a marker in time, a fruit on the year’s own bough, a rung at once both descending into winter, and back up into spring.

How the first big snow constricts the world gently, a cotton cocoon, perpetuating the life held muffled beneath its firmament. Metamorphosizing. Shifting. Becoming.

How the heavy clouds begin to sink to the valley floor, letting us for just one season keep the same company without wings. In them we realize concurrent confusion of feet upon the ground and our heads in the clouds. Perhaps in that bending of worlds our dreams begin to germ like the very seeds held in the darkness of the world’s soil.

How the darkness allows our afternoons to sleep, for us to dream while awake, and for the world to radiate its own light back skyward through the bright nights of snow-laden grounds. It is within the shroud that the other radiant stars can appear and remind us with silent fortitude of the days behind, and the days ahead, and, if we choose to see it, the promise of this season’s peace felt in the warmth of the mid-autumn sunshine.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah

Images: Cedar Waxwing Courtesy Pixabay,
Images: Great Basin Sparse Vegetation Image Courtesy USGS, David Susong, Photographer (David Susong, Utah Water Science Center Director, USGS)
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center,
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster,

Additional Reading

USDA Forest Service Fall Colors web site for the Intermountain Region,

Gunnell, JayDee, Reese, Julene, Ask a Specialist: What Causes the Fall Leaves to Change Color?, USU Cooperative Extension,

Autumn Leaf Color Change

Click for a closer view of Fall color in Logan Canyon, Courtesy and Copyright Linda Kervin
Fall color in Logan Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright 2007 Linda Kervin

Click for a closer view of Fall color in Logan Canyon, Courtesy and Copyright Linda Kervin Fall color in Logan Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright 2007 Linda Kervin

In autumn, the days shorten noticeably and chilly dawns become the norm across most of Utah. Leafy plants now prepare for winter. Their summer of intense metabolic activities gradually give way to winter’s dormancy. Photosynthesis and respiration shut down as nutrients and sugars are withdrawn from leaves, to be shunted to the stem and roots for storage. But how do they anticipate the change in seasons so that they are ready for the rigors of winter?

Photosynthetic plants have a diverse array of pigments that they use to capture energy from most of the spectrum of visible sunlight. Chlorophyll is the most abundant, but its light gathering effectiveness is limited to a narrow band of the light spectrum. Plants employ many additional pigments to capture the energy available from other wavelengths of sunlight. These accessory pigments are brilliantly colored but masked by the sheer abundance of green chlorophyll.

One of these pigments, phytochrome, serves as a timekeeper for the plant. When phytochrome absorbs energy in the red band of sunlight, it helps to activate a number of developmental processes in the plant. As the nights lengthen in the fall, there are fewer hours of sunlight to activate the phytochrome and so it transforms to inhibit those same developmental processes.

One result is that chlorophyll is broken down and its components are moved to storage for use in the following spring. Essential nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are likewise withdrawn from foliage for later use. With chlorophyll gone, the other colorful leaf pigments are revealed. Now maples, aspens, sumacs and more blaze for a few weeks of riotous glory.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Linda Kervin
Theme: Courtesy & Copyright Don Anderson as performed by Leaping Lulu
Text: Linda Kervin and Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Voice: Linda Kervin

Additional Reading:

Linda Kervin’s pieces on Wild About Utah

Chemistry of Autumn Leaf Color, How Fall Colors Work, Chemistry,

Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?, Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., Chemistry,

“Autumn: a season of change” (2000) by Peter J. Marchand,

Where to see autumn leaves in Utah:

  • U.S. 89, Logan Canyon, Brigham City to Logan, Logan to Bear Lake
  • State Route 39, Monte Christo Summit, east of Huntsville
  • State Route 190, Big Cottonwood Canyon, east of Salt Lake City, including Guardsman Pass
  • State Route 210, Little Cottonwood Canyon, east of Salt Lake City
  • State Route 92, the Mount Timpanogos loop a.k.a. the Alpine loop, north, east of Provo
  • State Route 150, the Mirror Lake road, east of Kamas
  • U.S. 40, Daniels Summit, east of Heber City
  • Vernal, Red Cloud Loop (See
  • Flaming Gorge – Unitas, State Route 191 and State Route 44
  • State Route 132 Payson to Nephi, the Nebo Loop
  • State Route 31, the Wasatch Plateau, east of Fairview
  • State Route 12, over Boulder Mountain, between Torrey and Boulder (likely the most spectacular of all)
  • The La Sal Mountain loop, east of Moab
  • The Abajo Mountain loop, west of Monticello
  • The canyons of the Escalante River, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, southeast of Escalante

List sources:
Aspens and Fall Foliage in Utah, Jeffrey Otis Schmerker, 2001,

Ogden Valley Business Association,

Fall Colors Tour, Utah in the Fall is a blast of color!,

National Forest Fall Color Hotline, 1-800-354-4595,