Stopping for Turkeys

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Your standard work day. Did some good work, offered my knowledge and labor, learned some things. Heading south toward home. Near Burlington, some traffic. Not bad, considering, but not quick. The traffic loosened as I moved south into more rural territory. Then the car in front of me braked, more quickly than for just a turn off the main road.

It was turkeys. A whole gaggle of them crossing the road. Well, not a gaggle. That’s geese. You could call it a flock. They are birds. Call it a rafter. Seriously. A group of turkeys is called a rafter. Once upon a time it was a raft, I guess. Then it got colloquialized.

Anyway, this rafter crossed the road. There were eight or nine of them. Or ten. I maybe didn’t see all of them. The majority of them ambled from west to east and blended into the trees. Three of them hung out on the other side, pecking at the grass. Cars started moving again.

Turkeys have made a comeback in recent decades. They once were booted entirely out of Vermont, but they came back. Now they are everywhere in the state. Still, it isn’t every day that one must pause in one’s vehicle to let them waddle across the byway. Lucky me today.

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Butterflies and Asters

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Asters are blooming like crazy right now: Purple Aster, New England Aster, Fleabane. Black-Eyed Susans are done. Touch-Me-Nots are gone. Dandelions? Haven’t seen them. Asters rule the fields these days.

I don’t know my butterflies well. I have thought many a time that I should learn them. I got some exposure to learning them on a trip this summer the butterfly garden at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury. They had a tent full of them with signage to show what was what. I don’t remember squat from that. Poor student, I guess.

The butterflies in the photo above are American Ladies. I had to look that up. I might be able to tell a Viceroy from a Monarch, but don’t trust me too much. I know there is more than one Swallowtail in Vermont. Can’t tell them apart though. But I tell you this: they are just cool-looking.

It is kind of nice to simply not know the names of things. There is real pleasure in being able to look at an insect, or a plant or a bird, and to know its name. To name something is the beginning of getting to know it, to knowing more than just its name. However, there can be just as much joy in simply wondering at a thing, in watching and seeing with ignorant eyes, in being present to observe.

A sunrise does not have a name, but it is beautiful. We can watch the sky change and the clouds trudge along in their pinkness and just feel awe. We do not have to create a name for snow on trees to find it wondrous. So it is with butterflies. I am curious about what they all are, what makes them different, where they go in winter, what flowers they prefer–all of that starts with naming them. But I do not need to name them to find them wondrous. They dance, unnamed, among the asters I might be able to name, and I feel like kid. “That is so cool!” I say aloud. And that is enough.

 

Monarchs on Milkweed

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We typically have some milkweed growing in our field. For the past couple of years I have made a point to try to leave some standing when I mow. Since Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed I wanted to make sure they can keep doing their thing.  For the past couple of years we have had no Monarch caterpillars on that milkweed.

This year I wanted to just mow everything. Saving the milkweed means saving some of the wild parsnip, and I want that stuff gone. So I just cut it all. The milkweed, however, perhaps because I mowed early enough, came back. And now we have Monarchs.

We found a caterpillar in a neighboring field recently and that made us more vigilant in searching our own. We found one caterpillar, then another, then another. Yesterday my spouse and I took a walk down the road. On the way out we found half a dozen on milkweed plants along our driveway. On our way back we looked again. We found eleven.

I am not sure if they are just doing better this year, or maybe cutting the milkweed actually helped. Maybe the younger plants are more appealing to them. In any case, those critters are thriving in our field. And they are cool-looking–wiggly and fat and striped with those waving antennae. Looking through the milkweed now is like searching for treasure. Plump, squishy, pre-butterfly treasure.

Before long those caterpillars will hole up for a bit and pop out of cocoons as butterflies. Then they will haul their fragile little selves down to Mexico for the winter. That is amazing, and don’t you even think it isn’t. The milkweed will go to seed after the butterflies depart. The seed pops will burst with floating white seed parachutes. I will crack open the pods and toss those seeds to the wind.  All of us in the house do this every year. We try to spread the milkweed to help the Monarchs. Apparently it helped last time.

Today it has been raining. I am sure the caterpillars are tucked under leaves, chewing their way through their own roofs. We have mostly stayed inside–reading, doing Algebra homework, paying bills, cobbling together lunch. Tomorrow we will look again for those yellow and white and black wrigglers. Finding eleven of them at once was a household record. I am hoping we can break it.

Rain and Shadows and Light

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In the night it starting raining. Hard. The wind picked up. Rain blasted through the screen. We rose, shut some windows. After a while it tapered off. Waking in the dark, I heard the rain fall again against the porch roof. Then I slept.

Morning, rain fell on and off. I could not get out to stain the house siding. Too wet for that. I could not finish mowing the field. I brewed coffee, sat on the porch and read Ivan Doig. My reading was interrupted by heavy showers. Wind misted rain through the screen. More than once I said aloud “Dang. It’s coming down.”

I got lost in Doig’s story, then looked out again at the gray. I had breakfast–blueberries and yogurt and granola. Later I took care of paying bills. I hung some closet doors. When it cleared, I thought temporarily, I popped over to a spot in town that often gets flooded to see if any early shorebirds had come through. They hadn’t. The rain did not come back.

Late in the day, sunlight highlighted the hills. Clouds hung in shadow and the far-off green trees glowed. Wind tickled the Black-Eyed Susans. Trees and grass and flowers drank the fresh water. It is quieter these days, with fewer birds singing. Soon, at night, the Perseid meteor shower will light up the night. I love rain, but hope for clear skies to see the stars surprised by slashes of light.

A few red leaves have appeared, as if competing to be the first to arrive at autumn. They are anomalies, for now. Sandpipers and plovers are not far off. Maples will blush soon. But not today. August has treasures to be found. I need to seek them out.

Mowing. Finally. 

One of my favorite sounds of spring and summer is the song of the Meadowlark. That sweet whistling tune makes me smile every time I hear it. This year they nested in our field. Starting a few years ago they were around, nesting in surrounding fields and sharing their songs. Now they nest right here in our meadow. By mid-July, chicks have fledged. We had a half dozen young birds zipping around, buzzing out their calls rather than their songs, done with nests for now.

Other birds were out of their nests as well–Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows, Bobolinks, Snipes. Birds fledged and Wild Parsnip not yet gone to seed? That means time to cut the field.

I had powered up our tow-behind brush hog in June. I wanted to make sure it started, that the blades spun, that it worked. So when mid-July arrived and the weather cooperated I hooked up the mowing system and got started. Unfortunately, after one pass of one edge of the field, smoke started pouring out of the brush hog. Dang! Busted belt. No more mowing.

There is a repair shop right up the road, so I just kept on going. It was Friday, of course, but they assured me getting parts is pretty quick these days. So I’m thinking they order a belt on Monday, put it on and maybe Wednesday I’m in business, best case scenario. But since I didn’t hear from them I called after a week. They had an estimate for me. Seriously? I’m hoping the thing is ready to go and they haven’t even ordered the belt?

So, giving them the go-ahead, I patiently waited some more. After another week I called again. It was still not done–complications, other parts needed, rust involved. After another couple of calls and another week, it was finally good to go. I picked it up Saturday morning, just before the place closed. It ran like a charm. So I headed out to field, three weeks after I started, Wild Parsnip now starting to go to seed, and started cutting.

I wasn’t sure just how much I could get done that day, but after about eight hours, I had most of it cut. It was a long afternoon/evening. I had planned to stop by 9:00 pm and stopped about ten minutes before that hour. I probably spread a few Wild Parsnip seeds but not too many, I hope. I left a couple of patches uncut but, since we planned to head out for a week the next day, it would have to do.

The birds were definitely cleared out by the time I started cutting. I missed my window between ground-nesters fledging and seeds falling by a bit but hopefully not by too much. If I can get out there and cut once more this fall, the Parsnip should be checked for this season. That stuff is aggressive and I need to keep at it. What I want is for grasses and native wildflowers to grow. I want better habitat for the birds and more food for the pollinators. It has been a long project and may take a good deal more time yet.

In the meantime I can look out over the cut meadow with relief. I don’t see those tall stalks with yellow flowers turning brown with seeds. I don’t hear much birdsong now, but come spring I look forward to the Meadowlarks, flying low across the greening field,  whistling their tunes once again.

Fine Spring Day

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Green is coming out. In the yard, daffodils are blooming, white and yellow. Azaleas have popped. Grass is starting to stand up. Spring? I believe so.

I was up early, out to find birds. Otter Creek was flooded. Ducks were scarce at the usual spot by the boat launch. The boat launch was under water. But ducks were abundant in the flooded fields. Shovelers! Ring-Necked Ducks! Plus Mallards and Canada Geese and Wood Ducks. I saw my first Spotted Sandpiper of the year.

Heading home from the ducks I decided to make an extra stop. I walked through Williams Woods. Ruby Crowned Kinglets sang in the brush. Pine Warblers sang in the tops of white pines. A Carolina Wren teakettled far off. And green, trout lilies included, crept across the forest floor.

Clouds gave way to sun but then came back. It is cool but feels warm after those winter days. Rain showers now. I need to get out and pull some early dandelions and grass that is butting in on the flower beds. I might plant some more flowers. The bulbs I planted in the fall are peeking up through the dirt. Soon the world will be a chaos of plants.

Already I think ahead to mowing the field, in July. The meadowlarks are singing, along with Savannah Sparrows. Woodcocks, however, never came back. That is our spring mystery. Where did the Woodcocks go? Or did that final winter storm do them in? Soon we will crank up the lawnmower, and sleep on the porch, and swing in the hammock.

But now we need to enjoy spring–the dawn chorus, the sweet smell of new growth, the wild leeks in the woods. The world feels and smells new.

Wondrous, that’s what it is. Wondrous.

Water and Ice

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A few days ago it was warm, so warm that rivers ran high and snow melted and we had lots of water. I walked down to the bridge to see the fields. The river gushed under the bridge. The fields had become a lake. The snowmobile trails were a wash. Just recently we finally had enough snow for snowmobilers to buzz around on the local trails. That afternoon they would have needed a boat.

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Last night the temperature was in the single digits, as it was the night before. Yesterday morning I went for a run. Where a week ago I was dodging mud and puddles and piles of slush, yesterday I ran on frozen dirt. A dusting of snow made the ice patches hazardous. It was a different landscape.

Winter came, then spring came, then winter came back. As I have said, I prefer snow. As many have said, if we have winter we might as well have snow. The sun shines today. The temperature might rise to the twenties. It is too cold for sugaring now, although some sugaring happened just last week. In a couple of days the temperatures will rise above freezing and stay there–too warm for sugaring. Hopefully things will settle out so the sap will run this month–below freezing at night, above freezing during the day.

In a month we will have spring for sure. Today I plan to reattach the birdhouse that fell off its post this winter. I want it up by nesting season. Who knows when that will be there this year? Red-Winged Blackbirds have been back for a week, so it could be here in a few days.

We might get another snowstorm. Would love that, but I’m not confident. Tomorrow morning I will get out and run again. Maybe we have mud. Maybe we have ice. Either way I look forward to getting out there again. Winter and Spring can duke it out. Regardless, I am going to do my thing.