Afternoon, Stick Season

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The river runs not high but not low. A sand bank toward the far side pushes the water away, causing the current to run faster. Across the river the banks drop steeply. In spring, Bank Swallows nest here, burrowing into the sand, flying low over the water to catch flies. Today it is not spring. Fall’s glory has passed. The brilliance of turning leaves is over. Those leaves lie in wilted piles among the bare shrubs.

But it is not yet winter. The current flows smoothly over rocks and sand and mud. A few moths still flit among the maples. There is no ice under which the water must crawl, no ice to scrape at the log lodged in the river’s bend. Snow does not yet fall. Today there are no clouds and the air is warm enough for scattered green leaves in the under-story to spread to catch the sun. But the sun is low, and will not last much longer today.

Upstream, at the mouth of the stream that melts into the river, a beaver just stirs in its lodge. It has been waiting for the light to dim, for shadows to grow long. It dips into the water, swims, waits again. Soon it will climb the bank to work at the silver maple it plans to fell. Already it has cleared smaller trees. It will chew away the bark, working steadily, wary of predators. Perhaps this tree will fall before winter sets in. Perhaps spring winds will send it tumbling. Perhaps it may prove more stubborn, standing for years before its top branches dip into the water. The beaver, however, does not concern itself with such possibilities. It simply works.

Two Blue Jays call across the bare trunks. A woodpecker knocks. A second calls to it and sends the first flapping away. A small breeze taps branches together, but mostly it is quiet. Crickets, cicadas, birds do not sing. Squirrels stay still. The woods here rest, exposed, not waiting exactly, not sure or unsure, just knitting the past into the present so the future can be only an imagined thing that does not matter to this day.

Soon the sun will drop below the hills. The day’s heat will drift off, like milkweed seeds across a field. In the dark, the river will seem louder. No bats will dot the skies but owls will call. Already owls are planning for spring, finding mates, starting nests. They plan for the future, like the beaver, doing today what must be done for tomorrow. Mice will crawl under dry leaves, finding seeds that won’t become flowers, feeding the owls, thinking only of right now, this November day next to the river that will not stop flowing, even when the ice comes.

A Little Too Close?

On the Prowl for Breakfast

On the Prowl for Breakfast

A pair of coyotes have now been hanging around our field for several days now. We see them early in the morning, hunting for mice and voles in the fields. They have been having a good go of it. I have watched them catch several. They walk quietly across the snow, listening. When one hears something under the snow, it leaps up pounces through the surface with its front paws, and then jams its snouts right down in it. Sometimes they come up with a small mammal in their jaws.

Success in Finding a Vole

Success in Finding a Vole

They have been getting a little too close, however. They are beautiful creatures, no doubt. Watching them, even knowing they are there, is comforting. I like to know we still have predators about. But when they walk right next to the house I wonder if we might have a conflict at some point. I have walked out and made some noise now a couple of times. That scares them off, at least for now.

Walking past the house

Walking past the house

They may den in the woods nearby this spring. This time of year is when they typically start seeking out sites for that, so we may be seeing them for a while. Then again, this may just be a good place to find a few meals for a while. I suppose we will find out over the next few weeks.

Tractors Getting the Job Done

My son and I took a walk this afternoon to see if we could spot any interesting critters, like we did yesterday. No dice. Too sunny and too hot. The critters were all holed up. We did, however, see a neighbor plowing his fields, ready to plant corn.

Digging Things Up

Then another neighbor came by to ask if he could cut our field. He wants to cut it for hay but it needs some work before that can happen. There isn’t much grass but there is a lot of other plant life. I took a walk while he went to get his tractor to see if there were any ground nests. My hesitation with cutting the field this early is nesting bobolinks. They seem to like the adjacent fields better than ours, however, and we are clear of bobolink nests for the time being.  I did see a couple of the warbling birds just beyond our field but none were hanging out in ours.

Bobolink in the Shrubbery

So he mowed. With the big honking tractor, unlike the one we used ourselves to mow in the past, the one that now seems what one might call wee, it took less than two hours. It took us eight to ten hours with the smaller tractor. He got the job done before we knew it, waved and headed back up the road.

Upper Part of the Field

Lower Part of the Field

The gulls had a time with it, picking up the mice that tried to run away. Poor mice. This is the first of perhaps three cuts for the summer. Eventually, we hope, grass will outcompete the “weeds” and will fill in the meadow. Then, bail it and feed it to the cows over the hill.

It looks all right, and it smells great. And I can’t say I will miss the wild parsnip that was starting to get way too tall. That stuff is trouble, and I am happy to see the fat stems of that invasive plant get chopped. Let’s see some timothy take its place. That will feed some animals. Even better than the mice fed the gulls.

Like I said, poor mice.

Mouse Trouble

One AM. Our nocturnal guest is back. It has chewed right through the wall for the second time. I plastered up the hole it chewed last night, but I guess I started that project too late in the day and it was wet enough for our friend to smooge through. Persistent little bastard.

I bought a couple traps a week ago and set them outside, on the outside of the wall in which our tiny mammalian guest has decided to be so industrious. How can you not catch a mouse when you leave a trap outside? But I didn’t. One of the traps disappeared. I never found it. I’m thinking it became a couch in the new pad. But that’s just speculation.

These traps are called “the better mousetrap.” I bought them on the recommendation of a fellow hardware store patron who said “Those work really well.” Better mouse trap? Better at what? Causing frustration? Offering free meals to rodents? They don’t stay open, which is a good feature once a mouse has been caught, but not such a good feature before then. I moved the remaining trap inside, next to the new hole in the wall, and propped it open with a rock. I am not hopeful.

Lying in bed, typing on my iPod, I can hear something downstairs, but it might just be my imaginaton. Tomorrow I am going to get some standard mousetraps. And plug the hole again. And hopefully get a better night’s sleep.