Many years ago, one of my favorite things to do was to watch a November sunset while sitting in a duck blind. At the end of the day, I would bring the decoys in and unload the ole double-barrel shotgun, then watch the sun go down over the pond. These days I like to drive up on the ridge and watch the western sky turn colors as the sun sinks slowly out of sight. It was a fitting way to end the day after a nice walk to a pond.
My late afternoon walk took me along a deer trail across the road from the Kickapoo High School. The trail meanders past the site of the schoolís tall grass prairie restoration project. This prairie was restored thanks to the compassionate efforts of the students. I canít help but pause to watch the prairie grasses glow when the sunlight catches their seed heads. The colorful beauty of the prairie is stunning year round, from a sea of green, blue and yellow in the summer, to Autumn golds, reds and beiges. The pretty milkweed pods have opened by now, and the fluffy white seeds float away on the breeze.
The trail continued through a stand of pines, then down hill through oak trees that grow up to the edge of the marsh. At the tip of the hill, I passed an oak tree I refer to as the ďupside down treeĒ, a huge, mature oak with many large branches reaching out from its tall trunk. What makes this tree so unique are the fifteen long, large roots that start spreading from the trunk six to eight feet above ground before tipping downward to make their way through the earth. They are all as big around as my upper leg and are covered with thick gray bark as if they were branches instead of roots. The resulting silhouette is a tree with branches that go up to the sky and others that grow into the earth, giving the tree its upside down appearance.
The pond is the shape of a dog leg and kind of wraps around the hill. I walk slowly to my right, following the deer trail along the edge of the pond. Fifty yards out in the open water swim six beautiful Tundra swans. The two large adult swans and their four young cygnets moved slowly in a tight group across the still water to the middle of the pond. Itís early to see swans here. They usually migrate through the Kickapoo Valley around the first week of December. Thatís when the water freezes on the Mississippi River where the swans have been spending the fall. The freeze causes them to move further southeast to the Carolinas. The family of swans had spotted me, of course, but they didnít seem too alarmed and stayed on the pond as I turned and walked the other way.
At the other end of the pond, a large flock of Canada geese were enjoying the late afternoon sun on the dark water. I didnít disturb them and left them in peace after a quick head count that totaled 125 geese. I could hear them softly chatting with each other as I headed back up the trail.
The sun was getting low in the sky and a large oak tree near the car reflected the sunlight off its red leaves. Most of the oaks have already dropped their leaves but this tree was still in full Autumn bloom.
Sunday I took a ride over to Baraboo for a visit to the International Crane Foundation. The crane foundation was started to help preserve crane species around the world. Here at the Foundation, some of the most endangered crane species are bred in captivity. My knowledgeable guide, Kyle Tainter, tends to the cranesí needs at the many holding facilities spread throughout the grounds. I was able to get a close look at such rare cranes as Red Crowned, White-naped, Black-necked, Siberian, Sarus, Brolga, Eurasian and Demoiselle cranes, as well as very rare Whooping cranes.
The large, pure white Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in 1941, with only 15 individuals known to exist. With the help of the International Crane Foundation, their numbers are up to around 300 today and slowly climbing. Getting to see such rare birds from around the world was a special treat and reinforced my faith in humans and the compassion in our hearts for all species on our planet.
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