It grew cooler as the day progressed. When it neared sunset, I could tell that autumn had come. The humidity dried, leaving the air cool and crisp, and the setting sun brighter even than it was in the summer. Everything appeared to be on fire - the setting sun cast hues of red and orange over the sky; trees lifted their orange leaves to capture the last of the sunlight before it set; leaves fell from their stately perches, landing softly at my feet and paving a path of brilliant red, yellow, and orange to the edge of the field where the trees clumped into a great forest of oak and maple.
I took a deep breath, feeling the clean, heavy air cling to my lungs. Everything grew quiet and still. The crickets performed their finale and the robins flew away to distant, warmer places. In their stead I found squirrels playfully gathering for their harvest feast. Cardinals lined the branches of the trees, their slight weight setting more leaves flying. The males' bright plumage kept the appearance of fire in the landscape. I wondered if they too would join the squirrels' feast.
I wandered into the forest, hearing the leaves' clean crunching beneath my feet. It was so silent that as I stepped on a twig, its clear snap echoed through the forest. I joined the squirrels, helping in their harvest of fresh nuts, berries, and leaves to keep them in until the feast. They smiled at me, buck teeth showing around chubby, furry cheeks. Their little hands grasped firmly to each nut, assuring its hardness and healthiness, while they flicked their puffy tails. A few ran about, their bodies undulating like the waves of the ocean, from their twitching noses to the tips of their tails.
The brown creatures stuffed their bounty into little bags made of sewn leaves and lined with their fur. Brushing against one of the squirrels, I felt his soft, warm, fur, and I knew these stout little creatures would enjoy their rest during the winter. After we had gathered all of the best nuts and berries, I followed the squirrels deeper into the forest to a clearing. There, various types of gourds had been hollowed out to house the squirrels and their friends, the chipmunks. I only got to observe these briefly, for we traveled on.
The fiery landscape was suddenly interrupted by the deep green of a pumpkin patch. The bulbous gourds jutted from their tangled vines and hand-shaped leaves. In the center, another group of squirrels worked to hollow out the biggest pumpkin, sifting through the gooey innards for seeds to roast. I joined some of the youngsters, who were playing in some dried hay. The sweet smell of the hay and the delicious smells of food being prepared in the gourd houses lulled me to rest.
When I awoke, I found that the big pumpkin had been emptied and the team was working to bite out designs from its thick shell. Other groups of squirrels had returned with fruits and vegetables from little gardens they kept. The chipmunks busily worked to make a sturdy table while others gathered toadstools for seats. As the table and chairs were set and the food paraded into the giant pumpkin, the rabbits and cardinals joined, bringing with them seeds and roots to add to the feast.
Creatures of all shapes and ages gathered together around the cedar table, and I joined in the midst of them. The food sat steaming in the center of the table, interrupted occasionally by a happy candle illuminating the interior of the pumpkin. A cup made from a red trumpet flower was passed around, and each mouth and beak partook of the apple cider within. The nectar left in the flower added some extra sweetness to the drink. Then all of the food was shared: creamy butternut squash, diced carrots, roasted pumpkin seeds, chestnuts, acorns seasoned in cedar water, pecan casserole, a buffet of seeds, and for dessert pumpkin and pecan pies, carrot cake, and berry tart.
We all had our fill, leaving much remaining on the table, and basked in our drowsy surfeit. Soft chattering of the animals and an occasional defiant chirp from the cardinals rose with the steam of the remaining food and the candles' light out of the top of the pumpkin. I could tell after a while that the creatures were growing desperate for sleep, so I said my farewells, taking some of the remaining food, and left the warmth of the pumpkin into the cool evening breeze.
The sun had almost completely set, leaving a last blast of purple over the sky. A few late bats darted about, complaining of the cold in high-pitched squeaks. I felt sad that they could not have joined the feast, but I knew just as they did that their time of day was already up. As I ventured further into the woods, I looked back occasionally at the big pumpkin. The light of the candles escaped through the windows and designs, and as I watched it disappear into a chilly fog, it took on the form of a jack-o-lantern.