A Gaggle of Canada Geese

moon phase Week of 08/22/2004 Best days of the year to graft.

The Kickapoo public school — where kids in grades K through 12 from throughout the area study — is set in beautiful countryside a half mile south of the river village of Viola. Across the road from the school, students have planted over an acre of prairie.

A Gaggle of Canada Geese

I like to drive by slowly this time of year, so that I can see what is in bloom. I'll often take a walk around this special spot of ground, covered with lush native grasses and lovely wildflowers. I think about when most of the rolling wooded landscape was covered by colorful prairie foliage. For me, the prairie is a peaceful place for reflecting on what once was, and I appreciate the work the students did to create the special spot.

As I drove by late this afternoon, I spotted a flock of Canada geese standing on the mowed lawn in front of the prairie. They slowly waddled along, necks extended to the ground, nibbling at clover leaves and no doubt snapping up crickets and small grasshoppers. They looked stunning on the green grass, with tall grass and wildflowers as a backdrop. Beautiful sights like this are one of the reasons I like living here.

I'm seeing the first signs of fall color, but it isn't fall yet. Here and there are bright orange and yellow maple trees, making it look like September instead of mid-August.

The weather has been a major factor for wildlife here this summer. The coolness continues. My thermometer read 34 degrees a few nights ago, so I covered a few things in the garden. There was no frost by morning, but I talked to others who actually had frost in their valleys. Normally we wouldn't get frost for another month.

No one I've talked to can remember a cooler August, or summer for that matter. Over the years, my articles have included a record of how nature adjusts to the seasonal changes. This year, spring, summer and fall seem to overlap.

Morning glories, blooming at sunrise, transform the old sow's ear of a shed into a beautiful silk purse. The large, sky blue blossoms seem to say "good morning" to the sun. It was the beginning of a lovely summer day, with temperatures in the mid-80s. I hope it stays this way for a week or so, to give the insects a chance to hatch. Also, lots of wildflowers and grasses need heat to put out seed before the frost comes.

This morning I noticed a kestrel perching on a highwire. She holds her breakfast in her tiny talons: a fat field vole. The vole was a fine catch, and will satisfy her hunger for the day. Normally the kestrel, like other hawks and owls, would have an abundance of large insects to eat at this point in the season — nutritious crickets, grasshoppers and beetles. The young predator birds especially depend on insects, because their hunting skills aren't good enough to catch larger prey on a regular basis. This year they are supplementing with easier prey, like frogs and snakes, but when the cold comes they must catch the quicker mice, voles, and other small mammals, or perish.

A few of my friends have taken advantage of the cool weather to put up some firewood. It's something we do every year when autumn is in the air. Putting up firewood is usually easy to put off until the weather cools. It's hard work, and it's easy to break a sweat, even on a cold winter day. This year's cool weather has made many think early about the long, cold winter ahead — people and animals alike.

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