From My WindowIssue Date: September 30, 2020
The Most Beautiful Time of the Year
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
One of my markers for the shift in seasons is the rise and fall of the numbers of blooming wildflower species I can see on my dog walks. In spring, it may be two or three per walk. Mid-summer brings the highs of as many as 18 - and I'm currently down to eight, a sure sign of true fall.
A few days ago Mike and I watched, amused, as a confused hummingbird hovered outside the window above the kitchen sink. The object of interest was apparently a bright orange plastic pumpkin I had just placed there. Alas, no food available from this fake pumpkin, and the beautiful tiny visitor eventually left. I am hoping it was a migrant traveling south from further north, and not a local still lingering as the cold weather sets in. Safe travels little one, hope to see you in spring. Imagine the luck and fortitude it takes these little birds to travel the distances they do - no suitcase of possessions or packed food supplies, only their wings and the smarts in their tiny brains to guide them.
Last fall we were delighted to host two young otters in "Hank Lake" for most of the fall. They finally departed for better wintering grounds in November. This fall our new resident(s) are at least one muskrat. A "hogan" has been constructed of vegetation out in the pond, and I can see their swimming trails through the water vegetation, and as a pronounced "bow wake" as they power by me underwater. They are omnivorous, but preferred food includes cattails and pond lily. We have a good supply of both, so I expect they will stay. They are welcome here.
The lake is a safe stopover for migratory birds, and we've hosted large flocks of geese, along with many ducks the last few days. They watch me, but do not take flight. There is always one goose who rises up, flapping its wings and honking loudly when I am spotted. That's the sentinel who then ostentatiously refolds its wings several times before settling back down.
One recent evening while I was down harassing the fish with a pole, I suddenly heard a commotion in the bank brush next to me. I held as still as possible, and slightly turned my head to see what was coming. The rustling and bending grass waved its way toward the water and at the meeting of the water and the vegetation, a fist-sized head emerged and turned to look at me. The big snapper knew I was there all along, I hadn't fooled it. After sizing me up, it slipped into the water and submerged with grace and silence, totally unlike its tank-like slow, loud passage through the brush.
Squirrels and chipmunks are busy stashing food for the winter. They are a constant presence under the bird feeder mounted on the patio railing, and a source of rage for the dogs. The dogs resent any unauthorized intrusion near the house and Wolfgang will lie inside the fence for hours monitoring the CEZ (Chipmunk Exclusion Zone) for violators. It is this protective responsibility the dogs have taken upon themselves which led to an unfortunate recent occurrence where they demanded to go out in the fence before dawn, an unseen commotion ensued and the stench in the night air revealed who this particular trespasser was. I was at the animal shelter on early morning dog potty walks, fortunately, and missed the immediate unhappy dog bath. I when I got home unaware of the drama I'd missed, I came in the house commenting how much it smelled like skunk outside, until I took a deep breath and realized -pretty bad in the house, too. As always I marvel " with hundreds of acres of land available, why do skunks seem to gravitate to the tiny patches of space the dogs have access to?
Now at 5 a.m. when Wolfgang pokes his nose into my face when I am trying to sleep, it smells like a skunk is getting me up. This is not the dog's first encounter with a skunk by any means and some might say "they are too stupid to learn." I think they remember, but are just duty-bound to guard their home. They are like canine U.S. Marines.
The vast majority of the insects are gone. The horse is enjoying her fly-free days, but I miss the dragonflies and darners who made visits to the lake so enjoyable. The aptly named "Autumn Meadowhawks" are still with us, and are easy to identify, being "all field mark" as birders say. A bright orange body, such an appropriate color for this time of year, makes them easy for even a beginner dragonfly fan to identify. Their bright orange precedes the garb of the deer hunters who are already feeling anticipation.
My massive zinnia patch has been hit by frost. I am sad, as it attracted almost no butterflies this year, unlike last year. Something is happening to the butterflies and I pray they return in numbers next year. In the meantime, the frost-damaged flower patch still swarms with all sorts of bees and wasps, doing final collection stops before their food sources are done for this year.
Now I stop counting wildflowers and lift my eyes to the beautiful trees. More varied, and in my mind, more beautiful and fleeting than the wildflowers. Get outdoors, enjoy the fall. Even if you love winter, this season is too amazing to miss.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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