Where The Wild Things Are- First Time Visitors

 Some times it feels like the best source of entertainment is my bird feeder. A little seed and suet and the circus comes to visit. Blue Jays come, eat all they can hold, and then leave. Juncos, Goldfinches and Chickadees are either constantly eating, or constantly being replaced by others of their sort. It is impossible to tell one from the other. Woodpeckers, usually Downy and Hairys squabble over the suet feeders, eating the sunflower seeds while waiting their turn to dart in and score some suet. The Pileated come in stealth mode, hiding behind tree trunks until he (she) deems it safe to come in. The slightest hint of danger and off they go again. 

There is always a debate in the bird world about the correct way to say pileated. Some say it is pie lated, others prefer pill e ated. It seems that if you know Latin, or have friends who do, that pil is the way to go. I have to wonder if using a dead language, that no one actually speaks, for basing a verbal pronunciation on is a good idea. I know that some people "speak" it now, in churches, and scientific communities, but as a society language I believe it only lived on in written form for a long time. So we are just guessing how they would of said it. Add in a midwestern American accent, and who knows? Maybe we should just name it the Pterodactyl Woodpecker. Another Latin word we can (or not) pronounce.

The other day I had a first time  visitor to my feeders. I looked out and there was nothing to be seen. This usually means a predator has come by, looking for it's own food buffet. Sometimes it is a hawk, sometimes a cat. That day it was a Northern Shrike. A Robin sized bird, with rather plain grey, white and black plummage, it doesn't seem that remarkable. But the little birds fear it just as much as the larger dangers. It swoops in fast and furious and grabs small birds and rodents. It doesn't just hunt when it is hungry, it stockpiles it's prey for later consumption by impaling it on thorns. Not the prettiest sight to see when out for a wintery stroll. There is another shrike, around in the summertime, that does the same thing, the Loggerhead Shrike. In all my time out walking I have never noticed any of these impaled bird kabobs. The Shrikes are not numerous, and like any predator, they have their territory which they don't like to share. This is only the third Shrike I have seen in my life. So if you see a robin sized bird, and find yourself thinking "That was a weird Blue Jay" you may have seen this elusive creature. Now to go out looking for bird or mouse kabobs....


Where The Wild Things Are- Vole in The House

Snow. Light and fluffy, it covers the ground. The slightest wind carries it aloft, dropping it softly once again. Another day and the sun has returned. Now the snow begins it's journey back into water. First, wherever a dark branch or stalk rises above the snow, the heat collects. A drop trickles down. The snow it touches wavers between frozen and thawed for a brief moment, then it too becomes a drop. Soon slush sits on the yet unfrozen ground. If the sun stays long enough and the temperature hovers above 32 degrees, it will soon be mostly gone. Always a few shaded, deeper areas of snow seem to resist. Maybe they will soften, but still be there when night falls along with the temperature.Tomorrow it may melt again. It seems the only beings who really care are the humans. 

The animals go about their business. Unless it is a deep snowfall that hinders the travels of the long legged deer, their lives go on. 

I had a vole in my house the other night. You would think with multiple cats and a dog in the house, that it didn't stand a chance. You would be wrong. It wandered down the hallway, into bedrooms, across the living room, stopped for a drink at the water dish, all followed by a cat or two. They took turns escorting this little visitor around. None would attack. They all knew that voles bite. The blind cat took the most interest. The sound of it moving around was enough for him to track it, occasionally batting at it with a paw. Everyone gradually lost interest and it wandered off. Then I read in one of my many books that voles can have up to 8 litters a year. Perhaps I have made a mistake in letting it wander in my house...

Where the Wild Things Are- Urgency in The Wind

We are teetering on the edge. Sunny days, patches of rain. Snow. There. I said it. It could come soon, or wait until the depths of December. All we can do is live in the moment and the moment it is sunny and 50 degrees. 

The white trunks of the aspen and birch stand out against the grays and browns of the other trees. They reach to the dark blue of the autumn sky. Dark red dots are all that are left of color on the sumac. 

The grasses are now brown, but not yet beaten down with the weight of winter. Milkweed fluff is still hanging off the pods. The goldenrod heads have lost all yellow, now shades of brown and grey. Leaves have withered and fallen. 

Juncos are popping in and out of the brush, scratching for seeds. Blackbirds wing overhead. Their calls flying across the empty fields. There is a sense of urgency in the wind. Things to get done before, things that can not wait. Everything seems to be hurrying, anxious to be prepared. Birds at the feeders enforce pecking orders. Biggest first, unless one is quicker. All feeding forgotten in the moments when a shadow passes by. Another being searching for a meal. Everyone is looking out for themselves, just trying to survive. But there are still flocks, working together to migrate. A few always on alert to warn others of impending dangers. Parents taking care of young, now as large as they are. We are all in this together.

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...


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....


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!


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