This crisp fall morning brought with it a touch of winter. The temperature dropped to near 20 degrees in the night and this morning the ground was covered with white frost.
Last night, as I gazed out the window from my bed, I watched the gray clouds part to reveal a large white moon. As the bright moon slowly passed across the view from the window I knew that a clear sky would mean colder temperatures. I could hear the distant faint sound of a combine as a farmer picked his corn well into the night. I listened for any other sounds that the night had to offer but all was quiet under the November moon.
I noticed that there seemed to be more sounds coming from the house than from outside. A deer mouse was rustling around inside the wall near the back door. I am always amazed at how much noise can be made by such a small mouse.
The bird feeder near the back door provides food for the deer mice and that's ok. These industrious little mice have the habit of finding hiding places for their food. I knew there was a good chance that this mouse was stashing birdseed in the wall.
Another, even louder scampering sound quickly got my attention. It was the busy sounds of a pair of flying squirrels who have come to the window feeder for their share of the birdseed. Their tiny sharp claws enable them to scamper along the wooden siding with ease. Slowly getting out of bed, I crept up to the window. The pixie-like flying squirrels sat nibbling the birdseed only two feet from my face. I watched them in the moonlight for five minutes before something spooked them and poof, they were gone.
As I crawled back into my warm bed, I wondered if it was now quiet enough to get some sleep? The nighttime sounds of nature that lull me to sleep have been replaced by a deafening silence. I always go through a period of adjusting to the quiet. Sleep comes at last and as I nod off, I hear the waning calls of a flock of tundra swans as they pass over the house. I should get up and see if I can spot them in the moonlight but instead I let their calls take me to my dreams.
Winter is fast approaching and the quiet cold and long nights will be a part of my life for five months. I have learned to be thankful for the sounds of nature, even from the bed. I know that I am not living here alone. All I need to do is listen.
After the morning chores, I scraped the frost off the windshield and headed for town. I drove by the cornfield that had been picked the night before. Every corn stalk in the 30 acre field had been knocked down. The combine-sheller had done its job and was gone with its yellow bounty, except for the broken ears and loose kernels that were missed. A red-tailed hawk perched high in an oak tree along the edge of the cornfield. He faced the warm morning sun and watched the corn leaves below for any movement that could be a vole or a mouse. The hawk has learned that a newly picked cornfield is a good place to catch a meal. The voles and mice aren't the only ones who take advantage of the corn, which is now scattered over the ground. A small flock of turkeys have walked out of the woods and are standing in the broken stalks and leaves, busily picking up the loose corn they find on the ground. The sun glistens off their beautiful feathers and they raised their heads high, as I slowly passed by.
The picked cornfield will be used by many forms of wildlife and may be a source of food through the long winter. The deer will come to feed in the evening and the gray squirrels and fox squirrels will nibble the hearts from the kernels until it's nearly dark. In the night the raccoons and a fox may search the field for corn and voles. A barred owl may perch in the same tree where the hawk had been during the day. He patiently waits for his dinner to appear in the corn leaves, then on silent wings he strikes.
If the cornfield was weedy there are other seeds to be found. The black seeds from the velvet leaf are a favorite food for birds like the chickadees, goldfinches, tree sparrows, quail, pheasants and many others. It's a good place to watch for wildlife of all kinds. When the snow comes and covers the picked cornfield, the birds and animals will leave their tracks.
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