There was still 15 minutes before my alarm was set to go off, but I had spent a rather sleepless night tossing and turning and looking at the clock - dreading the moment that I had to get up. It was the last day of my 105-day vacation, and I hate the last day of vacations. I always feel like a death row inmate whose time has run out. The longer my vacation is, the worse the last day is. Retired people really have it bad because their vacations end in death. At least I only had to go back to work.

My second-floor bed is by a sliding glass door that overlooks a tree-filled valley with the Colorado Mountains in the background. The sun was just starting to catch the tops of the peaks, and the humming birds were already fighting over the feeder just six feet from me on the other side of the glass. I lay there wondering what the humming birds would do when the feeder was empty and I wasn't there to refill it. I knew that they migrated south, but certainly not this soon. It was only the middle of August. I decided to leave the feeder there.

My dog Nina looked at me in a questioning way, and I could see she was surprised that I was getting up so early. She had been shadowing me all the previous day as I packed for our trip back to Pennsylvania, and now she seemed certain that I might leave her if she didn't follow my every move. Perhaps she just sensed my dark mood and thought she needed to keep an eye on me.

My packing was all done, but I still had to winterize my house for the nine months that it would be sitting empty until my return the following spring. This entailed draining the plumbing, put antifreeze in the traps, lowering all blinds, locking windows and doors, unplugging all electrical cords, shutting off the gas, emptying the refrigerator, and lots of other small chores that I should have done the day before if I had thought of them.

After taking my shower and putting on the clothes that I had laid out the night before, I closed the bedroom blinds and said good-bye to the upstairs. One room at a time I gave each a last look around for anything that I might have missed packing or left undone in winterizing the house. Each year when departing I look at each item as if it was the last time I would see it - imagining a forest fire would wipe out everything, or vandals would steal or destroy my things. A lot of bad things can happen to a house that sits unoccupied for nine months each year, and they all seem to happen in my mind's eye as I made my final rounds.

Out on the deck there were at least a dozen birds of various types fighting over the seed in the one remaining feeder. I had taken down the other two bird feeders, but saved the large feeder for last. Since my arrival in late May, the popularity of my bird feeders had grown exponentially, and recently the birds had been eating four quarts of seeds each day. The stellar jays were the biggest birds at the feeder, and also the sloppiest eaters, spilling more seed than they ate.

The chipmunk population had grown in proportion to the amount of spilled seed, and I counted eleven very young chipmunks busily cleaning up the spilled seed on the ground, while five adult chipmunks were on the deck eating. My horse added to the chipmunk feast by spilling much of her grain in her walk-in shelter under the deck. Nina had long since given up chasing chipmunks, and now they ignored the three of us. A number of smaller birds had joined the chipmunks on the ground as five jays scattered seed from the feeder above.

I take more than a modest amount of pleasure in having wild animals accept me as part of their life, and so I stood quietly under the deck to enjoy all the birds and chipmunks scurrying around me as if I were just a normal part of their environment. One young chipmunk even ran over the top of my boot in his or her excitement at all the good food raining down from above. Their good fortune was about to end, as mine was, but they were unaware of their fate. I couldn't help but wonder how many of them would survive the harsh winter, since my feeding them had resulted in a population that far exceeded the natural food supply. I decided to leave the feeder up and refill it. With luck, it might last another 24 hours.

Two hours after waking I was ready to depart. I put Nina in the back seat of my truck, and my horse in her trailer. Our last slow drive down the long winding driveway through the aspen trees was more vivid than all the other trips I'd made that summer. There is something about saying good-bye that heightens one's senses and creates indelible memories. As we drove down the winding mountain road, the valley below us was filled with clouds - the mountains protruding into the early morning sunshine. A buck with antlers still in velvet stood calmly by the side of the road and watched as we drove slowly past. I envied him - at least until hunting season started. But for me, a nine-month hunting season was about to begin.