The author’s son in a leaf pile.

Autumn is such a wonderful time of year to spend time outdoors. The summer heat has passed, and – at least on most days – the chill of winter has yet to set in. It’s time to get some fresh air and some quality time outside with the family. Most of the ideas listed below cost nothing, and depending on where you live, many can be done in your own back yard.

Collect Colorful Leaves – How many different colors can you find? How many different shapes? Take a walk in the woods and see what’s there. When you’re done, you can put the leaves back where you found them, or bring them home to make art projects. Press a collage of leaves between two sheets of wax paper (use a hot iron), or preserve individual leaves. You can string them together to make a garland or even a wreath. Keep them for yourself, or mail them to a friend living in a place where the leaves don’t change color.

Make a Pile of Leaves – And Jump In It – If your leaf collection gets big enough, you can rake it into a giant pile. Kids love to play with leaf piles – jumping into them, scattering them across the yard, or just sitting in them and pretending. Encourage them to use their imagination. Is it a nest? A landing pad? A bowl of soup?

Build Things With Sticks – Especially after a storm, the forest is filled with all lengths of sticks and fallen branches. Put your creative mind to work and these can be a fun alternative to building blocks or Legos. Long sticks can be bound together at the top to create a rustic tipi, or stretched across a stream (real or imagined) to make a walking bridge. Shorter sticks can be used like Lincoln Logs to create miniature log cabins and other structures.

Build Things With Stones – Rocks of all sizes can also make intriguing building materials. Find a rocky forest or field, or just go to the beach, and collect a variety of rocks and stones. You can make your own miniature stone wall, Stonehenge replica, or other sculpture. Or make a “hoodoo,” piling one stone on top of another, and another, and another, etc. at the edge of a walking trail, leaving a mysterious mark for others to ponder as they pass by.

Plant Bulbs For Spring – Many flower bulbs have to go into the ground in the fall in order to bloom in the spring. Choose an interesting variety or two at your local garden store, and select an area in your yard to which you’d like to add some color. Even the smallest hands can help with this home improvement project. Don’t forget to watch for green shoots and flowers when springtime comes!

Adopt a Tree – Choose a tree in your yard or in a place you visit regularly. Consult a field guide to learn all about the tree’s life cycle. Observe the tree each day and make a diary of your observations. Notice how the tree changes as the weather grows colder, what animals live in or near the tree, and so on.

Go On A Scavenger Hunt – Make a list of things you’d like to find in nature (a maple leaf, an acorn, a birch tree, some moss, a squirrel gathering food for the winter) and then choose one of our myriad conservation areas and get busy looking for them.

Walk on the Jetty – Several local beaches (Plymouth, Green Harbor Brant Rock) have rock jetties that you can walk on, some more challenging than others. If it’s not too cold or windy, scrambling over the boulders, being careful not to fall in the water can be an invigorating, adventurous way to spend an hour. Bring a snack to enjoy once you’ve reached the end of the jetty, where you can sit down and enjoy the view.

Go Birding – So many different varieties of birds pass through the South Shore while migrating south for the winter. Plenty more live here year-round. Bring along your binoculars and a field guide (or a knowledgeable friend), and stop by any nature preserve to see what you can see. Want more guidance? Our local Mass Audubon office offers regular birding outings for adults and families throughout the year.

Take a Walk – With the foliage at or just beyond its peak, the woods are a beautiful place to be in mid-fall, especially on those properties where you can see the colorful leaves reflected on the surface of a river or a pond. The meadows and marshes are quite lovely too. There are so many open space areas on the South Shore . . . too many to count. Check out one you’ve never visited before!

Get On The Water
– The vibrant fall foliage also makes a delightful backdrop for a paddling or boating trip. If you don’t have your own, you can rent or borrow a canoe, kayak or perhaps even a small motorboat and explore our local rivers – the North, the South, the Jones, the Weir, and so forth. Just be sure to avoid going on a windy day. Want some company? Check (and this newspaper’s community calendar) for paddling trips.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
October 2009

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit To browse 13 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit