We have been blessed with perfect fall weather the past few days, mid-60s and sunny. I took advantage of the nice conditions and got some firewood in. I dropped a large, dead Boxelder tree at the edge of the yard. It doesnít make great firewood, but itís easy to getÖsort of. It took me two days to block it up, split it, wheelbarrow it up near the house and stack it. That doesnít include the time it took to make two big brush piles out of the smaller twigs and limbs and then raking up the small debris in the yard. Thereís no doubt the firewood was keeping me warm even before it went into the woodstove.
The truth is thereís no easy way to put up the firewood besides buying it. I did luck out this year when a friend at Organic Valley wanted to barter some good firewood for some of my art work. Thanks Bob. You saved me a lot of work and time and very sore muscles. Here in the Kickapoo Valley, many of us get by with a little help from our friends.
I have two squirrel stories from the past week. In the autumn itís not unusual for a Deer mouse to make the mistake of sneaking into the house. Thursday I woke in the middle of the night to the familiar sound of C.A.T. playing with a mouse he had caught. Then I heard an unmouse-like squeal that made me grab a flashlight to investigate. C.A.T. had a little flying squirrel cornered near the wood stove. It must have come in through a cracked open window. I quickly caught it up in a coffee can and released it outside. Afterward I realized I hadnít taken any pictures. It was the first one Iíd seen at my house for nearly five years. Back then, my neighbor had recently logged some of his woods, causing the flying squirrels that lived in those trees to seek shelter elsewhere. After that, I didnít see any more til Thursday night. Hopefully Iíll start seeing them again on a regular basis.
While stacking firewood Friday afternoon, I heard the shuffling of dry leaves from the nearby woods. I always look to see what kind of squirrel is scampering through the leaves. To my surprise, I didnít see a gray or fox squirrel or even a chipmunk. It was a jet black squirrel, which is really a gray squirrel with a black color phase. When it saw me watching, it scurried up a large oak tree. I went to the house for the camera but it was gone by the time I returned. Itís not unusual to see black squirrels in different areas of the Kickapoo Valley, but Iíve never seen them here. If this one stays around, Iíll get some pictures.
Around 90 percent of the leaves have fallen in the Valley, and, once again, the beautiful lime rock outcroppings are exposed to the sun. Each fall Iím reminded of the simple beauty hidden by leaves all summer. Itís amazing how the tall White pines and birches seem to grow right out of the rocks. I especially like the way the Kickapoo River flows right up to a lime rock wall that has been carved out by centuries of flowing water.
Iíve been enjoying the little Purple finches coming to the bird feeders. They are a tiny bit larger than their Goldfinch cousins, and the males have a purplish/raspberry breast and head. Iím hoping that some of the pretty Purple finches spend the winter here.
Several Jack snipe probe the mud with their long beaks in search of worms. The muddy backwater is a good place to see these secretive little shore birds. The Jack snipe or Common snipe were once very plentiful in the area but have disappeared due to the lack of good habitat.
Itís always a treat to see a Red-headed woodpecker. They are another bird that I used to see every day here. These days, Iím lucky to see a few every year. The beautiful male I saw today flew up and landed on the side of a wire corncrib. He was helping himself to the free corn. His dark red head, white breast and black wings are a striking color combination. Woodpeckers are very noisy, active and happy birds, always moving about, always making a racket! They seem to prefer open country with plenty of large trees, a savannah type of habitat.
The nights have been chilly with frost nearly every morning. The Red-tailed hawk perches with its white breast facing the morning sun. The warm rays heat him up while he watches the ground below for a mouse breakfast. The snakes, frogs and large insects are gone and wonít be part of the hawkís diet again until spring. The hawk must turn his attention to other food sources (like mice, voles and rats) that are harder to catch when the snow gets deep. The hawk is a survivor, though, and is very good at what he does. His chances of making it through the winter are pretty good so long as he can catch a meal.
The flowers are gone now and so are the butterflies and bees. A single pretty morning glory is all that survives on the wilted dry vines. I waited all year to finally see the first morning glory, and now all thatís left is the last one to bid farewell to summer.
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