I love the way a summer evening can turn this valley into the most peaceful place in the world. The intense heat of the day was hardly bearable, one of those days when itís dangerous to work too hard outside, as the temperature neared 100.
Living in a north-south oriented valley means that the sun sets three hours earlier than it does up on the ridges where you can see the horizon. I miss seeing sunsets at the end of each day, but it means that full dark comes more slowly to the valley. I love the way the air changes as it gets cooler and heavier as the sun disappears over the mountain. The wind dies to nearly nothing, and the bird song is crisp and clear. The dayís energy has slowed to a peaceful pace. The sun says hello to the moon and a little brown bat meets a mosquito. The valley is filled with a green, twilight glow and a whip-poor-will calls from the shadows. Life in the valley definitely has its advantages, but I would still enjoy seeing a sunset each night on the horizon.
The warm weather has caused some insect hatches, and the black flies and mosquitoes are pesky. Along with the deer flies and houseflies, they keep me waving my hand in front of my face. Iíve also been seeing more butterflies, like the Yellow swallowtails and Mourning Cloaks along with a few dragonflies. I didnít expect to see fireflies early this year, but there were a few hovering around the flowerbeds just before dark. These insect hatches usually come in cycles, and cool weather will slow the hatches.
Though the heat is intense during the day, itís fairly nice early in the morning. A light breeze at dawn carries the sweet scent of Black locust blossoms into the house. The thorny Black locust trees are the last to get their leaves but the first to cloak themselves in beautiful white flowers. Itís a vivid splash of color, and the blossoms fill the valley with lovely perfume. Wild bees fill the trees and take advantage of the windfall of nectar. Mixed with the scent of the locust flower is the old familiar aroma of irises that grow in several places around the yard and garden. They have always been one of my favorite, old-fashioned flowers because of their unique beauty and scent.
Every year there is a woodchuck who decides that this is a good place to spend the summer. A female usually raises her young under the board pile behind the shed. I eliminated the board pile last fall, so the woodchuck didnít return this spring. I hadnít seen a woodchuck here until today. When I looked out the kitchen window, I noticed a large male woodchuck half-way up a tree trunk. Because it was such a hot day, he must have climbed up to take advantage of the breeze.
There are three half-grown gray squirrels hanging around the bird feeders the past few days. These little guys were born in early March and are just now venturing out and about. They look small and a little shy, but they have figured out how to get up on the platform feeder to feast on their favorite sunflower seeds.
In the big pasture at the end of the road, the cattle have waded into the cool water of the trout stream. Everyone likes a little dip when itís hot, and the cattle are no exception. The pasture is green and lush with fresh grass and clean water, the perfect place for a cow on a hot, summer day.
Several large, dark blue butterflies gathered at the edge of the gravel driveway this morning. They are Red-spotted purples and have orange spots on the undersides of their wings. I think it may be a good summer for butterflies. There can never be enough. In the meadow, I noticed a couple nice Monarchs checking out their favorite plant, the milkweed. It's a very good sign of things to come. With luck, they will lay their eggs on the leaves of the milkweed and, in a couple of months, there may be new Monarchs flying about in the flower gardens.
When Iím driving along the country roads, I keep my eye open for birds and butterflies, as well as the wildflowers I always watch for, three good reasons to drive SLOWER. This morning I spotted a brownish sparrow perched on the barbed wire of a grassy fencerow. The bird was kind enough to stay put while I pulled over for a closer look. For the first time in five years, I was looking through the lens at a Dickcissel, a bird of the prairie grasslands and meadows. The little Dickcissel is rarely seen these days in southern Wisconsin. The male kind of looks like a small version of a meadow lark, while the female, the bird I was looking at, has a small patch of yellow on her breast and a yellow streak above her eye. She has a chestnut shoulder and a bluish bill. Iíll return in a few days to see if I can get a glimpse of the pretty male.
There are so many beautiful plants in bloom now. Everywhere I look thereís a new flower treat to see. It looks like it may be a good year for blackberries, as their thorny bushes are full of snow-white blossoms. Itís a special treat to see a pink wildflower, and the Wild Prairie Rose may have the prettiest pink flowers of all, not to mention the delicate scent of Rosa arkansana. It grows on a steep, sunny bank just off the gravel road. Nearby, there are blue flowers atop the two-foot-high blue/green stems of another native prairie plant, the Spiderwort. The flowers are the same color blue as a bluebird. The bluer-than-blue flowers open in the morning sun and close up as the sun sets.
This is the best time of year for learning wild flowers, birds, and butterflies, but you have to be outside to get the full effect of their beauty. So go outside and let Nature stimulate your life and spirit.
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