Two Mallards

moon phase Week of 10/03/2004 Excellent days to harvest.

There's been a good frost the past two nights, and already the color green is fading. The fall color in the trees grows more pronounced each day. Most of the garden and flowers were lost to the frost, but it has not been cold enough to stop the insects from singing tonight. I sat out on the porch for a couple of hours, just listening, as this may be the last time I hear them for many months. I'm kind of envious of people who live in a warm climate and can hear the night-time insect music all year round.

Two Mallards

At sunset, I watched a flock of wild mallards as they flew over the tree tops, following the winding Kickapoo River. Seeing them stirred my old memories of duck hunting. When I was a young man, October meant spending much of my spare time in a duck blind at the edge of a southern Wisconsin farm pond. For hours I would scan the skies for flocks of ducks and geese. Cloudy, damp fall days were the best ones for waterfowl to be on the move, so I'd give my duck and goose calls a good workout on this kind of day. But whenever I was in a duck blind I spent most of my time birding. My old hunting journals are full of wildlife observations.

On a day of blue, cloudless skies, or "high sky," few ducks would be moving around, so much of my time was spent watching the world go by. The decoys sat motionless on the still water, and the warm sun made my shed my jacket, but I was not discouraged. I just enjoyed the "quiet time," and watched the sky. While there wouldn't be many ducks flying on such a day, I would get to see lots of other birds. Large flocks of chattering blackbirds would pass overhead, in a formation that would stretch to the horizon and take five minutes or more to pass by. Sometimes I would spot a flock of unidentifiable shore birds far in the distance. A high sky day is also good for observing migrating hawks. Often I was lucky enough to see a large whirlwind of hawks, called a kettle. Several different kinds of hawks may circle together as they slowly drift south. It's fun to try to identify the different species. A kettle of 50 or more hawks might include broad-winged hawks, red-shouldered hawks, coopers and goshawks, red-tailed, sharp-shinned, and marsh hawks. There might also be some kestrels and maybe even a Peregrine falcon or two.

At sun-up, the temperature was 24 degrees, and a thick white frost covered everything. Any plants which escaped the first two frosts gave in to the extra hard one last night. As the cattle gathered for a drink at the water trough this morning, their breath rose around them as a foggy mist.

Organic vegetable farmers in the area are scrambling to harvest their squash. Once the frost wilts the large leaves that cover the squash, they have to pick what's left right away. Organic apple growers too need to pick while the picking is good. Many apple varieties can stand a light frost or two, but when the temperature dips to 26 degrees, the apples will freeze. Then they will start to soften when they warm in the sun.

If you are an organic farmer or a gardener, there's always a little more work to do when the frost comes. It's sad to see the gardens wilt overnight. All that wonderful summer color disappears with a wave of Jack Frost's wand. There are those who regret the passing of summer, but for me the change to fall feels natural, and leads to all good things.

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