The first week of August brought back memories of what August meant when I was a young man along a southern Wisconsin trout stream. It meant fighting tall grass and weeds to get to the stream which was often completely hidden by overhanging foliage. It wasn't always easy to wet a line under these conditions especially when the temperature was pushing 90. Fishing for trout was no easy task in August but back then it was rare to see anyone else who was willing to battle weeds, bugs and heat to catch a trout, so I often had the stream all to myself. As always, the main reason to go fishing wasn't to catch fish but to just experience being there and feel nature touching my soul.
August meant butterflies and biting flies and a hot summer sun with fluffy cloud skies.
I haven't fished for trout on a hot August day for many years but the memories are still vivid.
In the late 1950s, an August day meant baling hay and stacking bales on a flatbed wagon pulled along behind the baler. It was a hot job but good, clean, hard work that I always looked forward to being a part of. Every little breeze was a brief reprieve from the scorching rays of the summer sun.
There were worse places to be than out on a fresh-cut hay field. I was always reminded of that when I was up in the haymow in the barn where the humidity from the fresh, damp bales made me wish I was back in the field again.
To make a little extra money, I would help the neighbor top his tobacco plants. This meant walking the rows of tobacco and picking off the flower stalks that grew from the middle of each plant. We were told to remove any tobacco worms we would find and dispatch them under our heels. Tobacco worms were the large, finger sized larva of the giant silk moths like the Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna moths. Even as a boy I knew how beautiful these large worms would be if they were given a chance to spin a silky cocoon and transform into a colorful large moth with 4 to 5 inch wings. I couldn't bear to just kill them so I would often drop them into an empty coffee can. Later I would scatter them along the edge of a woods or marsh so they could live and complete their cycle of life.
It was always a special treat to see one of these big moths and still is to this day. A fellow employee pointed out a Polyphemus moth to me near the Organic Valley headquarters the other day.
I am always awestruck by the sheer, delicate beauty of these lovely moths and my memory returns to those tobacco fields over 50 years ago.
The House wrens that built their nest of sticks in a hanging gourd on the back porch were all excited today. Their noisy chattering meant that their young were finally leaving the nest and entering a big new world of sunshine and flowers. It was the second brood of young wrens this summer and there may still be time to raise a third family before fall.
There has been lots of talk lately about invasive plant species and what to do about them. It's an enormous topic when you consider what few remaining native plants are left. There are only one percent of one percent of the original grassland plants left in southern Wisconsin today. Land owners need to be encouraged to deal with invasive species where they live and to learn what benefits the native plants can have on the whole eco-system.
It's well past the time to teach the children how important it is to save what remains of the natural world but we must act now.
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