My walks are always the highlight of my day. I think itís because I loved being outdoors as a boy. Iíve never lost that sense of adventure every time I set off down Natureís trail. Even this time of the year, when all seems quiet and still, itís a challenge to open my senses to whatís really going on around me.
The leaves have all fallen from the High-bush cranberries and the branches have lots of berry clustersóevery bush but one. That one cranberry bush had been picked clean of every single one its red berries. It seemed rather odd so I walked over for a closer look. To my surprise, under the bush were two neat piles of orange-red berry hulls. I had to stand and think about who it was that took the time to go up and down the bush so many times to get the berries. It seemed to me that a deer mouse would like the seedy berries, but he would probably cache them somewhere. There is no bird I know of that eats this way. Now and then I discover something thatís hard to explain, but a little detective work may help solve the problem. There are no Pine squirrels in this valley and the Gray and Fox squirrels donít seem to care much for High-bush cranberries. Iím wondering if maybe a Flying squirrel or two may have stripped the bush clean of berries and felt safer eating them on the ground near the safety of the stalks. Then, when I looked a little closer at the berries, I could see they werenít really berries at all but hundreds of tiny crabapples from a nearby crabapple tree. Well then, what happened to all the cranberries on the bush? It was a strange puzzle, but Flying squirrels are my best guess. In the dark of night the little nocturnal Flying squirrels carried the crab apples under the cranberry bush and ate the seeds out of themómaybe.
The Kickapoo River has been running clear and dark, winding through the valley and under the country bridges. Piles of fallen tree trunks are stacked near the road at one side of the bridge. The logs had been washed down river during a recent flood and jammed up under the bridge. Country road crews must keep the bridges safe by removing these logjams. Itís amazing to see what the power a river can have when it floods.
Sunning himself in a tree near the river, a young Red-tailed hawk enjoys the morning. The dark chocolate breast feathers and long brown tail are his first year plumage. Looking closely, I can see his lemon-yellow eye, thanks to the camera. I have noticed a few more ďyoungĒ Red-tailed hawks this fall, having not seen hardly any the past several falls. He is looking very healthy as he flies past me on his way up the river. It looks like he has a small bulge in his crop, meaning he has caught something to eat.
I had only gotten a little ways from the house when a Chickadee called to me from the leafless lilac bush. He seemed to be trying to tell me something as I walked by and it dawned on me that I hadnít put out any sunflower seeds for the birds. I told him I got his message and put out some birdseed before heading out for my morning walk. After a brisk walk, I was on my way back to the house when a nice flock of Tundra swans passed above me. Their faint calls told me how they were as they flew to the West, on their way to the Pacific Coast for the winter.
I always have a little trouble adjusting as winter comes in around me. The hardest thing for me is the short daylight hours and figuring out what to do with the extended time in the dark before going to bed. Darkness comes around 4:30 p.m. in my little valley. In the summer, if you are tired at 9 p.m., itís because itís getting dark and itís not too early for bed. But in winter when itís dark at 4:30 p.m., no matter how tired I am, I know if I go to bed too early, Iíll be up at 3 a.m., and thatís way too early. The loss of an hour at night due to ďdaylight savings timeĒ is the real kicker for me. Iíve always found it much harder to adjust to an unnatural event that a natural one. Man has tried to manipulate all facets of Nature and now we live by the time that we have created. We never seem to be satisfied with the pace that Nature has set for us.
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