Friday, October 31, 2008

Time for Turtlenecks

A dark morning catches Orion on the western horizon. And in the 30-degree morning chill, I am reminded of how soon it will be that we’re standing out beyond the grass, upon the pond. Skating--on a similarly cold night, the Hunter watching from above.

A stack of turtlenecks has replaced the t-shirts in my drawers.
And this colorful box turtle I found out walking in the August heat has disappeared beneath the covering of the woods.

Taking his turtleneck with him.

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Autumn Riverbed Skies

Todd's Fork of Little Miami River

I pass Todd’s Fork every day—a small stream feeding the Little Miami River. Their junction, the little river town where I work in the public library.

At times of high water, the narrow road lining it is closed. And, days later, the trees standing beside it wear remnants of debris—the high water mark well outside its banks.

But in times of drought, the streambed widens, the chunks of river rock thrown haphazardly from one edge to the other. Collecting the fallen leaves of a stand of Sycamores aptly placed.

Today wearing black--
of the Turkey Vultures roosting in their bare branches.
While close to fifty circle above, soaring atop a column of air.
Warmth from an autumn afternoon.

Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura

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The One of a Different Perspective

I love a nuthatch.
Neat little package, steel blue.
Diff'rent-looking one.

White-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
click to enlarge

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Skeletons in the Closet

The things we keep buried.
Out of sight, out of mind--until, at a low point, they peek out at us.
And remind us of the past.

October pond


I recall speaking those words to my family, again and again, as we walked the property of what would become our "new" southern Ohio home.

Not new, in most respects.
Except, perhaps, the heavy coat of blue paint that literally held the place together. Applied in loving desperation by the older couple no longer able to care for it, in hopes of catching the eye of a new owner--a new caretaker for the 1835 brick farmhouse on 15 rural acres of woods, field and pond.

May pond

The lure of an evolving adventure, the continuation of an already rich history, upon land rolling wild and free...the package had us spellbound.
We moved in, in the summer of ‘92.

While repairs to the old house began, so did our attention to the pond—a leaky, shallow Y-shaped basin formed at the convergence of 2 seasonal creeks crossing the back of the property.
With mud deep enough to bury all sorts of sins.

By the summer of our second year, the August heat warmed the shallow water so greatly, we looked out one day, to find all the fish we’d dreamed of catching on a lazy afternoon—floating, dead at the surface.
The attractive picture we’d remembered from our walk there that first spring, had become the stench that hung on a warm summer breeze.

The fix?
Sculpt a new dam beyond the old, able to contain a greater depth.
A sanctuary from the warming waters of the shallows.
A place where, even in dry months, the water would be cool and able to sustain the lives within.
With a notch carved between the two—their passage to the deep.

old dam with passage to deep water

The rains of spring fill her to the brim.
We look out over long reaching arms, stretching back the edge of the oaks, dotted with wood ducks and the noses of snappers. Fish rise and pluck damselflies from the surface. And a heron steps slowly near the grassy rim and flies up and off.

March pond

Only when the summer wanes and the rains elude us, do we catch a glimpse of the pond of years ago.

Old land is good at keeping secrets.

October pond revealing old dam

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Sunday, October 26, 2008


Maple dressed in orange

A strong breeze blew dark clouds across the sky this afternoon—puffy white above, steel blue below.
The forecast of a freezing night appears to be true.
Much of the grass has lost its color, turning to brown in these weeks with little rain.
The field, too, has faded, from the glowing golden tones on the hilltop of goldenrod.
Until the only colors are the subtle shades
of past stems, withered leaves, and fuzzy seed heads.

Already, the breeze carries tonight’s chill.
And, I am thankful for the blush on the oaks.
Ignited by the setting sun.
Warmth in their rustling leaves.

Pin Oak

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

I Know it's Itchy, but...

Much of our property grows wild.
And, aside from the few gardens bordering the house, is left to its own devices. The vines of the woods, trumpet creeper, wild grape, and Virginia Creeper, grow freely, draping themselves in sheets from the tops of the trees. Knitting their branches into the canopy beyond our door.

At times, I’m envious of the homes bounded by the more trimmed yards.
Their color-coordinated beds of flowers.
Their beautiful landscapes so demanding of time.

This afternoon, after walking our trails under passing clouds, searching the fields and woods for the migrant warblers, I returned to the house, disappointed. And sat for a moment on a sun-warmed stone on the river rock wall of my herb garden.

Several feet beyond, an unruly vine wrapped its winding way through a small tree—poison ivy.
The reaching arms bare of its fallen red leaves, and now bearing fruit, small white berries.
And Yellow-Rumped Warblers.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Dendroica coronata
feeding on poison ivy berries

What we lack in order, we make up for in vigor.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Catching Clouds

I’ve learned to take my camera many places.
Often, the sights I’m after, find me--without my looking.
Yet, I leave it behind for my short drive to work.
For what could I possibly need it?

Monday afternoon, I stepped outside, leaving the darkness of the indoor world behind me.
The beauty of the sky was so striking, I felt myself draw in a breath in awe.
Feet on the dark, dirty pavement, looking up--
an exquisite work of art.

From edge to edge, small puffy clouds covered bright blue.
Like bits of sheep’s wool torn and scattered,
densely across the sky.
I raced home, to my camera, waiting in its place by the back door.

And caught what was left of the drifting puffs, as they spread beyond the field.

Clouds over Cornfield

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Up to my Knees in Grasshoppers

New England Aster in front of cornfield

Almost daily, I walk our “block.”
Past an assortment of homes, old and new. To my favorite stretch of country lane—the path between the fields.
This year, a harvest of soybeans and corn.

Wildlife is drawn here, as am I.
From within the soybean field, deer raise their heads, chest-deep in the amber stems. Watching my progress down the lane, stepping cautiously toward the safety of the tree line.
From the shortened stalks of corn, killdeer and mourning doves rise, and spread their calls over the now empty, open space. Canada Geese stand feeding in small groups, their long black necks hiding in the vertical shadows of the field.

I found a very large grasshopper here, tangled in the grass of the road’s edge. With strikingly yellow legs and black chevrons decorating them.
And started reading about grasshoppers when I returned home.

The hundreds of possibilities.
Entire manuals and field guides devoted to a single insect.
Their transformation into swarms of locusts.
And international studies as to how and why swarms occur.

And I, with this simply beautiful insect perched on my hand, cannot understand it.

She does not seem at all concerned.
All that matters to her, is cleaning her antennae.

Differential Grasshopper, Melanoplus differentialis?

click photos to enlarge

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Monday, October 20, 2008


I have a T-shirt that reads, "So many books, so little time."
Appropriate, for someone who spends her day working at the local library, thumbing through the latest publications--glimpses of the never-ending stream of best-selling novels cranked out by those famous names such as Grisham and Patterson and Parker.
Only, to return home to a yard of seasonal chores--leftovers from the ambitious plans of an always-too-short weekend.
Sometimes I feel like I'm chasing my own tail.
Caught on the hamster wheel, once again.

Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
fully leafed-out and showing nuts

flowering in spring

And although I should be able to turn my eyes from the scads of Black Walnuts thrown in ankle-breaking regularity across the yard,
I feel they should be gathered for winter.
Collected and processed into the wonderful cakes and cookies with that wild, Black Walnut kick.

A laundry basket and three 5-gallon pails are already full and poised by the back door.
And the yard has been blanketed, yet again--the green-hulled, tennis ball-sized nuts, now dark brown and beginning to show signs of losing their pungent jackets.
Soon, the black hulls will slough off, and, wearing heavy rubber gloves, I'll wash and rinse the rough, furrowed shells, until the black water runs clean and clear.
Black Walnut stains are deep and dark--and long lasting.

Throughout the winter, bit by bit, I'll crack the impossibly hard shells indoors, seated on the hearth of a glowing wood stove.
My hammer and favorite cracking stone, a slab of river rock with the perfect nut-sized depression, stand ready.
Soon, to extricate each delicious morsel, hidden deeply within its elaborately chambered case.

I wonder if this force I sense to gather them is like that the squirrels feel.
And if they, too, sigh deeply each morning, looking out over the yard beneath the walnut trees.
There is yet much to be done.

Black Walnuts in basket

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Beneath Color

A night in the thirties has chased the last color from the field.
Where August boasted the deep purple of Ironweed riding high above a waving hillside of spicy golden flower tops, all has faded to brown.

field behind barn, August 22, 2008

field behind barn, October 19, 2008

The bracts, now open in flat, petaline forms, reflecting the angled light of an autumn day. Beautiful in their own way, these structures beneath the color, seen only after its passing.

Tall Ironweed, seeds gone

Soft seed heads cast hundreds to the wind, while Goldfinches and sparrows cling to their swaying stems, riding the breeze as on a small chestnut steed.
Up and down.
Up and down.

Virginia Creeper on barn siding

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Friday, October 17, 2008

The 17-year Itch

Katydid on Teasel

It seems I’m always nursing some pesky itch.
A patch of poison ivy gained from the pursuit of a blue butterfly or the rudely appearing red welts of chiggers, invisible irritants within the tall grass.
For most of the summer, I’m itchy.
I look forward to the cool days of fall for relief.

I spent a warm morning clearing brush from our trails—the winds from Ike’s passing, tearing branches from the oak woods and casting them carelessly along the path where they entangle walkers’ feet. A good chunk of time I invested, for, soon, icy days will shorten my visits and chilled fingers send me back home for warming.

A few hours’ trimming and tossing restored order. And, aside from a few scratches from some misplaced brambles, the morning was perfect—

The next day, however, a large red welt appeared, with an itch that commanded attention.
Could this be an Oak Leaf Gall Itch Mite’s bite?
The tiny mites, Pyemotes herfsi, that feed on the midge larvae of oak leaf galls?
Pin Oak leaves?
And fall in mite showers in autumn?

Very likely.
Because, in addition to midge larvae, the eggs of 17-year Cicadas are also suspected of hosting these mites. In years of Cicada emergences, mite populations also increase. And with them, complaints of bites.

So, this summer of the cicada has become the fall of the itch mite.

And the itch goes on...

Oak Leaf Gall Itch Mite bite

Itch Mite
photo from Associated Press as published in Cincinnati Enquirer

For more information on Itch Mites, read this.
For details of the Cincinnati outbreak, read this.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Drat...missed again!

A forecast of 2 days' rain brought heavy clouds to Tuesday's sunrise.
I watched as a pink sky dissolved, and the sun rose, backed by blue.

Damp laundry, pulled in haste from the clothesline, waits for a day of certain sunshine.

While the evergreens, one by one, become skeletons.
Waiting for rains that never come.

Missed, again.

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Wheel Bugs, Arilus cristatus
mating pair

I walk my trails often, looking for life.
Seeking that bug peering out from beneath a leaf or the spider hidden deep within her narrow tube of a funnel web.
Creeping along on my knees or chasing a setting sun before it slips over the edge of the world.
Sometimes the end result betrays its arduous capture.

And, then I stumble upon a pair of bugs.
So plainly displayed on the peeling white door of our little red shed—
as if holding a sign, “Please take our picture.”
These Wheel Bugs, in the morning sun of an autumn day, assure me there will be many to capture next year, as well.

Wheel bugs, Arilus cristatus, are one of the largest "true bugs" of North America, having sucking mouth parts and able to deliver a painful bite.
A great fixture for your garden; a great predator of other insect pests.

And the one bug I seem to run into everywhere!

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Old Mother Maple

I love the big, old trees on our property.

Arriving from upstate New York, they were the first impression of our new southern home. Where, from a canopy above, birdsong greeted the weary travelers and broad branches sheltered an old brick house safely beneath.
A large hickory stands guard in the back, reminding us with intermittent showers of nuts upon the tin roof, that he’s still standing strong.
In the front, a large hollow Sycamore and 2 Sugar Maples line the drive.
We are well surrounded by their interlacing, graceful branches.
Safely at home, on the top of our little hill.

Maple Sugaring Time
Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum

In early spring, we tap the Sugar Maples—the first step in a month-long process that yields the sweet amber syrup I remember from my grandfather’s farm in Vermont. Only several quarts, from just 3 trees scattered across the yard. But, a sweetness like no other, that tastes of strength and purity—and home.

The largest of the three, Mother Maple, reaches out toward our porch.
Her twisted trunk bears the scars of large fallen limbs. And the many slender branches grown in their place are crooked, giving her a lop-sided profile.
She is the character of an old, proud tree.
Gnarled, and with bark covered by lichens.
Greeting visitors to the hill, in her place by the front walk.

Mother Maple

Every spring, her arms welcome nesting birds.
Last year, a family of Summer Tanagers and this spring, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
On narrow leafy branches, with a gentle slope--such a welcome place to make a home.

female Summer Tanager at nest

Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest with tip of beak showing above

pair of baby hummingbirds in nest

This fall, her leaves have grown brown and withered. They litter the ground beneath her, barely changing to their golden tones.
I wonder if she will be with us much longer.
Or if there will be a gap in this landscape.

The hot, dry summer is hard on a more northern girl.

Mother Maple and our home

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