Where the Wild Things Are- Fall Fades

Nature teaches us many lessons, if we slow down and observe. Falls lesson is about letting go. The leaves go through their life cycles, prompted by season clues when to leaf out, when to gather sunlight, when to slowly change color, and lastly, when to let go. They just drift down, ready to become nutrients for other plants and animals. If only we could be so gracious.

I am not willing to let go. I want to hang on to fall and the beautiful foliage forever. Fists full of crumpled leaves, I shake them at the benign blue skies. "Stop!" I want to yell! I am not ready for it to slide by and winter to land in our laps!

I want to just stare at the autumn landscape. Burn it into my memory. I want to keep feeling the crunch of leaves under my feet, cool breezes sending others dancing in the air. One day the leaves are green, the next the bare tree stands in front of me. Today the tamaracks are suddenly golden. Maple leaves over half gone. Oaks are changing fast. Too fast...

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Where the Wild Things Are- Quiet in the Fog

October has come, with grey skies, dripping grasses, and winds. Somewhere out there are brightly colored leaves and sunlit woods. Beyond the softness of the fog the world is preparing. Plants draw back into their underground homes, enough energy stored for the long winter with a burst to bring forth the buds in the first warm days in the distant future. Animals gather and store seeds and other edibles. Some need little, for they will sleep through the worst of it, others will be out and about, even in the coldest, to find those last seed heads lying in the snow. 

It is quiet in the fog. Muffled sounds filtered through the damp leaves and grasses. Juncos have returned from a summer up north. Their chipping surrounds me as I walk. Other birds are heard, the sharp call of the Yellow Shafted Flicker, Geese flying high above. Many migrants are passing through, their calls indistinguishable now that mating calls are a mere memory. The last of the hummingbirds are gone, I haven't seen a robin for a while. Change in everywhere, and when the fog lifts, it will be a different place out there....

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Where the Wild Things Are- Purple Stemmed Beggarticks

The openness of the land calls to me. I was planning on exploring woodlands. As I walked along the field edge, swamp on my right, I saw a low area that I hadn't paid any attention to before. Not more than 20 feet across it went from grass to willow to cattails and back again.  Could there possibly be anything there that I hadn't already seen in the hours I had prowled the wild areas of Camphill? I wouldn't know if I didn't go and see. The ground was dry except for the very center where it was deep enough for cattails. Grasses and sedges crowded the edges. Watching carefully as I stepped, I notice a small plant hidden under all the other foliage. A tiny yellow blossom, more of a bud, caught my eye. A closer examination, several photos, and I was clueless. Later research would reveal a name I hadn't known before, Purple Stemmed Beggarticks. A late season bloomer, overshadowed by falls browning foliage, makes walking through a small wetland in the field worth the trip. 

After such success I continued to explore the open edges. No more firsts revealed themselves, but new land under my feet makes me happy. Asters now outnumber the goldenrods. Tamaracks are starting to turn golden. The cold temps will soon encourage the rest of the leaves to turn and fall. One last blaze of color before the white of winter...

Where the Wild Things Are- Enjoy the Colors

Grey and cold. Not so much fun to go out in that! The leaves are dropping fast in the wind. Seeing through the woods is easier now. The large crashing noises that could have been anything including Bigfoot, now are mysteries more easily solved...deer and squirrels visible as they head for the hills.  

The focus has shifted from what is in bloom to what fungi is popping up, how dry are the wet areas, and are those leaves turning color yet. It is wet enough for interesting fungi finds. Bright pops of color that will soon blend into the fallen leaves, the understory dying back and revealing the forest floor. It is easy to imagine a fairy perched on the large toadstools.

The wet areas are surprisingly dry. Walking in the tamaracks is less about hopping from hummock to hummock and more about looking around my feet for mosses. Spaghnum moss showed up at the base of a tree and a sample was taken home to the terrarium for closer examination. With a steady PH of 7, many plants that require acidic conditions don't grow hear, but I am always on the look out. The wetter areas are from springs in the hills, seeping out into the lowlands. Highbush cranberries are hanging heavy on the bushes. 

The leaves are yet to turn on the oaks and maples, yellows from poplar and birches come and go quickly in the wind. With wind and rain in the forecast, it will affect the over all lea cover, making for a shorter fall. Get out and enjoy the colors while you can!

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Where the Wild Things Are- Letting Go

It is a time of endings. Each leaf that falls has ended the life it knew and is beginning a new life, one of letting go of the energy that makes it a leaf and becoming building blocks for next years plants. Endings are mostly recycling in nature. Being human, we tend to view each ending as a loss, instead of the next step in a continuous cycle. We get drawn into melancholy, missing the moments of beauty. There are lessons to be learned here in the woods. 

A dragonfly landed on my hand the other day. A little red Meadowhawk. It paused for a moment, soaking up some of the warmth, then it was gone. Dragonflies live short lives compared to us, from a few months to a few years. Most of that life is as a nymph, in the water. When it finally crawls out of the water and sheds its skin one last time, the actual dragonfly that we recognize lives only for a few weeks. It eats, mates, lays eggs, and dies. If it is not eaten before it can complete the cycle. Up to 90% of dragonflies are a food source for birds, small mammals and other dragonflies. So when you see them flitting about on these last warm days, pause a moment to relish a fleeting sight.

Other things are flying these days. Young birds, fresh from the nest, are making their way into the world. Some with family around, some solo. My walk the other day was interrupted by a harsh call. A raven was circling the woods, calling to something. By the time I made it across the meadow, it was long gone. Maybe it was a lone young raven, scoping out territory. Maybe it was an older one encouraging a young one to fly. Why do humans need stories about what they see? Can you imagine a coyote, pausing at the edge of the woods. It sees a human walking in the distance and contemplates where the human is going, and why. I don' think so.

Maybe today's lesson is in just being in the moment. No need to add anything to the day. Be a leaf, gently floating down to earth on a breeze. Just letting go.

Where the Wild Things Are- Nothing In Life Is Stagnant

The sumac is mostly turned red now. I can no longer pretend that the summer is still here. As much as I love fall, there is a part of me that wants to cling to the summer flowers and long days, begging them not to go. I didn't have enough walks, enough time to bask in summers glory. I didn't see it all. 

But the wheel of the year turns, whether or not we want it to. Time to focus on the here and now. Fall. Bright blue skies, cool breezes, wet grass in the morning. Asters and goldenrod fill the fields and woods.

Bottle Gentian are blooming. Sneezeweed flowering nearby. The ground has finally dried up some, the river has dropped low enough that rocks form ripples in it's surface. Swampy areas are passable, if not too overgrown with fern and prickly ash. Cattails rise over my head, blocking any view of deeper waters. 

Yellow shows more and more in the canopy. Soon the reds and and browns will come into sight. Strong gusts of wind send leaves scattering. Fall. It is properly named. Flower heads droop under the weight of seed heads, grasses bend and break as they come to the end of the season. The roots have stored away food and energy to get the plant safely through the winter months, the stems and leaves no longer required. They will break down and become energy for the next generation. 

As I walk, color catches my eye. Fungi on the forest floor. Yellows and reds, browns and whites. All shapes and sizes. They are there only for a few days, and then are gone. So many that I do not have a name for. Always something more to see, something more to learn. I guess that is why the seasons change. So that there is always new reasons to learn, new things to see. Nothing in life is stagnant. Look now. Look again.

Where the Wild Things Are- Spreading Seeds

I was only gone a week! Suddenly the leaves are turning, the air is brisk, the migration of birds and butterflies is in full swing! Berries and seed are all over the woods and fields. As annoying as it is to find stickers clinging to you, remember that these seeds are the way these plants have survived for eons. Seeds need to be distributed in order to give the plant a chance to pass on it's genetics to the next generation. I like to try and remove them before I leave an area, so I am not bringing them with to a different place. 

Seed are also spread in other ways. Right now the jewel weed, or Touch Me Not, are in full bloom and seed pods are ripening. You would think the name "Touch Me Not" would be a warning that this plant will harm you in some way. Like Poison Ivy or Stinging Nettle. Nope. I don't know why it is named that. If you squeeze the pod gently between your fingers, it explodes and sends the seeds flying. It tickles. So if you are out and see this beautiful little flower, look for pods (about 1/2 inch long). If you squeeze it and nothing happens, it isn't ripe yet. If it explodes, take a good look at the parts left over and see the tightly curled springs and maybe a seed or two. 

Seed are also distributed by just dropping off the plant, or in the case of the milkweed family, by being attached to fluff that catches the winds and blows them along. I found the Whorled Milkweeds slender pods yesterday, still green. The Common Milkweed is already starting to dry out and blow around.

Of course, some seeds are encased in berries. These are eaten, pass through the digestive system and are expelled with fertilizer to give them an even better chance to succeed. 

Seeds do more than spread the plants. They are a necessary source of food for many out there in the woods. Birds and animals are working to either store up the energy needed to make a long migration, or tucking them away for later in the year. The less popular seed will linger on the stems, providing food in the depths of winter when there is nothing else left to eat. 

So when you are out and about, look around and see how many different types of seeds you see! 

Touch Me Not

Touch Me Not

Touch Me Not exploded seed pod

Touch Me Not exploded seed pod

Where the Wild Things Are- Go Explore

Most people have ideas of what it is like out in the woods in the summer. Mostly they think MOSQUITOS! Large and voracious. Swarms of them. While I really like my alone time in the woods, I also would really like more people to actually go out there and see it for themselves. So let me start by saying that the mosquitoes are a lot less of  problem than you think. Remember, back in the day, when you watched action shows and someone was always getting caught in quicksand? That tricky stuff must be lurking under ever innocent looking puddle out there! But now, looking back, I can't say that I have ever heard of anyone getting caught in quicksand, much less dying in it. Mosquitoes get the same bad rap. Yes, I use a repellent, mostly for ticks. I can walk for hours and hardly see any mosquitoes. I can lay down on the forest floor to photograph flowers and not get eaten. That being said, don't try it early in the morning or as evening come on. Mosquitoes are out in force then. Breezes also help.

The other thing that seem to stop people is having to push through brush or grasses. Prickly ash is a pain and stinging nettles are nothing to sneeze at. But these do not cover the woods. Wear long pants and real shoes (not sandals). Long sleeves are a good idea. 

In the interest of sharing the woods with others I have started a trail of sorts, by trimming out prickly ash and other small branches in the way on deer trails. This trail begins by the pines, by Susie's Sunshine Cottage. If you follow the south edge of the pines going east, you should see yellow marking tape indicating the trail, as it cuts through the prickly ash and onto an old field road that runs north. Mostly you should be able to see the trail as it goes through the waist high goldenrods. I have tried to mark it well enough to take you along north, through the woods, along a deer trail, then on to the crown of the hill in the woods. You can follow it through to where a gully cuts across the crown. 

If you cross the gully, I have trimmed a bit of a trail up the other side and along the crown there also. It is not as well marked, but I should be getting to it soon. If you follow it you will eventually come to a deer stand. Technically you are over the edge of camphill property, but it made more sense to connect to the existing trail that is there and cut another one 10 feet over. About 20 feet north of the deer stand my trail veers sharply to the left (west) and cuts through the woods to the field/pasture. From there you can see Prairie Wind and can find your way at your convenience.

Now this trail is not mowed. It is rough ground, branches to be dodged and trees to step over. It goes up and down some steep ground also. So take your time. Enjoy the walk. Maybe someday there will be maintained trails for everyone to enjoy.

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Where the Wild Things Are- An Artist's Eye

It feels like the depths of summer out there. Hot and humid. Bugs flying, just enough breeze that you cannot say there isn't one. But at the same time, signs of change are out there.

Perhaps it is my artist eye that picks out the subtle changes in the landscape. The greens sliding to the yellower side, seed heads changing the over all greens of the fields. Here and there a leaf has changed to red. Berries add to the feel. Turning red and purple, they dot the foliage. 

It makes me hope for cooler nights, temperate days, clear blue skies. Goldenrods are starting to gild the edges of the fields and roads, asters cannot be far behind. So even if you are sure summer will never end, and you will melt into a puddle long before winter chills you to the bone, remember autumn. It is the reason many of us stay in the frozen state of Minnesota, tolerate wet springs and spend summer avoiding the heat as much as possible. Those clear crisp, colorful days. They are out there under a fragile coating of green...

Where the Wild Things Are- Be Present

When I go into the woods I find I must make a conscious decision to be present. It is easy to just start walking and trample through the grasses and under the trees and never really connect. Sometimes I really need to walk and think. I need to be moving and able to lose myself in thought. I have paths for that. Safe paths that carry me home again even if I don't remember anything I saw on the trip. And then there is walking in the woods. I slow down. I stop and look around. I listen. I breathe in the fragrant woods. Then I walk. Step by step. 

The first things that catch my eye are colors that aren't green. Berries are ripening on the forest floor. White and Red Baneberries, pretty much indistingushable the rest of the year are unmistakably either red or white. Raspberries still dangle in thickets. The Solomon's Seal berries are a brown cluster nodding at the end of the stem. 

Seed heads are forming on some plants, their petals long dried and gone, while others are just popping out. Yellow loosestrife adds color, with the oxeye daisies and the woodland sunflowers. Bergemont is fading, but the purples are filled in with Giant Blue Hyssop and Heal all. The first asters and goldenrods are just about in bloom.

Some times it is the smell that gets your attention. The pungent odor of some fungi makes you slow down and give a second look. This week I found fungi growing on fungi, as shown in the photo attached. Also worth a trip to the woods is Indian Pipe. If looks like a fungi but is really a plant. It is white because it does not have chlorophyll. When the flower heads are down, they haven't been pollinated. They turn upright and slowly dry out with seeds in the pod at the top of the plant.

So whether it is the sights, sounds or smells that attract you, the woods is full of thing to discover. The nature walk will be on Sunday afternoon at 3, starting at the woodshop.

Fungi on fungi!

Fungi on fungi!

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe