The tops of the maple trees are displaying the reds, yellows and oranges of autumn. Fields and pastures are drying, their lush green beginning to turn brown. In the cornfields, the large, dry leaves crackle in the breeze.
When the weather's dry, I like to set a couple of saucers of water out on the back porch to attract insects. They appreciate the water as much as anyone, and I get a chance to see them close up. The water becomes a favorite place for honeybees and yellow jackets, butterflies and moths. Today, however, I watched a large yellow swallow-tailed butterfly get chased from a saucer by a thirsty and impatient chipmunk - one animal who will never be accused of being shy. As a treat, I've been tossing small chunks of sweet, juicy watermelon to the chipmunks. If there weren't so many of them, I would coax them to eat from my hand.
The dry weather has also prompted me to set a pie plate of water next to the bird feeder. Many birds appreciated the handy drink, until the red-bellied woodpecker decided it was a good place to take a bath. Time to set out another pan of water, I guess.
I've seen pretty little goldfinches showing up at the feeders with their newly-fledged youngsters. They gather around their parents, begging with fluttering wings and open mouths for mom or dad to open a sunflower seed and feed the sweet seedmeat to them. I've been expecting the finches since the second week of August; they seem to be a little late this year. Not everything seems to be occurring on schedule.
The birds have already begun gathering for their fall migration. They fill these autumn mornings with bird songs, reminding me of spring. Just before sunrise this morning, as I watched the moon set beyond the eastern horizon, I was greeted by the musical chatter of 10,000 blackbirds passing by. A pair of sandhill cranes called out from the river bottoms, and a screech owl sang from his hiding place in the woods. A short while later, I saw a lovely pair of pheasants strut out into the short brown grass of the pasture - a good place to find crickets and grasshoppers. It takes them only five minutes to get their fill of protein-rich insects.
The pheasants are an alien species in North America. They compete with other species for what is theirs, and their role here has been in question for quite some time. Still I welcome the sight of the exotic birds, and I have spent much time with them in the past. I have hunted and eaten them, raised them and released them, only to find them and treat their injuries in later years. When hard winters threatened them with sub-zero temperatures and snow drifts, I have carried bags of corn and oats through the deep snow to feed them. Pheasants hold a special place in my heart and my memories.
The cock pheasant graces us with his beautiful colors year round. His long neck shines iridescent purple and green, and he greets the early morning with a resounding "crow!" The female is equally beautiful in her own beige and brown feathers.
In this season, my thoughts often return to a friend who passed away a few years ago. This verse was found amongst his writings:
"Even though we've thrown away the rulebook and no one is in charge, I never feel for a moment that we lack a sense of direction. Guided by our instincts, intuition and faith, we live each day as though it were our last poem, our last dance on this earth." Bless you, Robert.
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