Getting Used to Changes Lately

September 18—

Like last year, the summer is still lingering in the Kickapoo Valley and the garden flowers are showing their last blossoms. There’s still lots of evening insect music to listen to from my (front row) seat on the back porch steps. Little moths and millers flutter by in the moonlight and the brown bats flitter here and there, silhouetted against the twilight sky. I sit here for a while every evening and enjoy the end of the day from nature’s perspective, feeling a little lonely for the pretty rose-breasted grosbeaks who must have left last night. For the first time in five months, I won’t see them at the feeder in the morning.

A barred owl calls for his mate from down the valley just to let me know there are lots of ways to brighten a day (or night). A mosquito nips me on the back of my neck, giving me a more bittersweet perspective, but I’m grateful for its presence and its place in a healthy native environment.

Each autumn, I’m challenged by the migrating fall warblers. I can’t help but notice their busy antics in the thick leafy branches of the bushes and tree limbs. It’s always their movements that get my attention not so much their post-nuptial plumage. Their many spring songs are now replaced by a variety of chips, chirps, and faint chatter. I gave up trying to remember who’s who in their fall plumages—it’s a challenge seeing them only once each year, and only for a short time. I page through my field guides to track down their identities, but it never sticks in this old head for long. What I do remember, is how many more warblers I saw years ago compared to now. 

 

Yes, it’s been a pleasant summer and fall, but still not exactly normal. Nature keeps surprising me with things Ive never seen in my lifetime. For the second year in a row, there are lilacs and snowball hydrangeas blooming in my yard, and the neighbors have dark blue irises in full bloom. I have to keep reminding myself it’s September! 

There’s still a lot of little first-year leopard frogs around the yard and meadow. The larger adults are rarely seen and I’m wondering how many there really are out there.

I watched a pair of sandhill cranes near the river as they danced and bowed to each other. Leaping high with outstretched wings while calling and jumping off the ground. It was the first time I have ever seen them do their spring mating dance in autumn. 

Summer’s bounty provided me with several wheel barrels-full of squash, pumpkins, and bird-house gourds. It was a memorable harvest when several of my friends brought all their kids to help pick pumpkins. It was great to hear the high energy chatter of kids’ voices in the valley. I just don’t hear enough of that these days. It was once like that here most every day 150 years ago for this old schoolhouse and schoolyard. 

There has been a female rufous-sided towhee hanging around the yard, darting in and out of the bushes and brush piles near my refurbished country schoolhouse house. Her melodic chirps let me know where she is most any time of the day. It’s usually the males I see this time of year, does she think it’s spring? 

Seventy-degrees and sunny today and the area farmers are busy day and night. Their combines groan a hungry tune as they crawl back and forth across the dry, brown corn fields. 

October 15—

Cooler nights and warm days have me constantly trying to regulate a comfortable temperature from the wood stove. Too warm. Too cool. Open the draft. Shut the draft. Guess I got spoiled not having to think about the stove all summer, reminds me it’s time to change along with everything else.

 

There were 30-40 robins in the yard at sunup this morning. I haven’t seen many migrants until now. They’re busy flying back and forth from the cedar trees to the bright yellow leaves of the tall sumac. 

October 16—

The temperatures in the valley dropped to 32 degrees last night and the ground was covered with the first light frost of autumn. I’ve kept track of the first frost in the Kickapoo Valley for several decades, and it’s one month later than its typical September 15 debut. 

Lots of robins in the yard again this morning, and today they are joined in their antics by a dozen cedar waxwings. 

October 19—

In spite of the frost each morning, the days warm to the high sixties. While transplanting a few things in the garden this afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice a pair of monarch butterflies. Finding something to eat during their long migration south would have been much easier a month ago. I can’t remember seeing them this late in the year. I wished them a safe journey. (Notice the blossoming lilacs—on October 19!)

October 23—

The wooded landscape is half denuded of its autumn colors since the first frost. I thought about those two monarch butterflies when the thermometer on the back porch read 26 degrees at sunup. A flock of 20 juncos greeted me on my morning fetch of a pail of water from the creek spring. I’d been expecting them any day now, and I hope more join them to spend the winter visiting my feeders. 

My good friend, retired teacher Jane Keeley, spent a beautiful fall day floating down the Kickapoo River with me in a canoe. Jane’s live-in companion, Daisy, was also along for the ride and was the perfect passenger until she saw a squirrel—one of several we saw along the banks of the river. Good thing this pooch is afraid of the water, or we’d have been chasing her chasing squirrels for much of the afternoon. 

I hope everyone is enjoying the autumn season as much as I am, and taking the changes in stride, one day at a time. 

Naturally Yours,

Dan