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Posts Tagged ‘summer’

Taking On July

July is a battlefield. At least it was in my youth. I would wake in the morning only to wonder what was out there. What could be found in the woods today? Is anything hiding in that rock pile? What will be down at the creek? I wonder if the berries are ripe?

A child knows that something it out there. There is always something out there. Every day is something new to explore. Adults go soft, sitting in cushioned chairs in air-conditioned rooms. But a child knows, there is a lot going on. Someone has to find out what it is.

Still, it is a battlefield out there. Crawling under barbed wire. Falling from a tree or onto rocks. Thorns stand between you and the berries. Sunburn, bruising, and blood are all part of the experience. There are poisons everywhere; ivy, oak, and sumac. Coming home with a rash is normal. Bees will sting, so will yellow jackets, and hornets. Ants will bite, so will deerflies, spiders, and snakes.

Leeches and ticks  are looking to suck your blood. Chiggers will cause you some miserable nights. Mosquitoes will nibble on you all summer long. July is a danger zone. It is a war out there. I still have scars from some of those battles. And I would do it all over again.

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Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain there is a new deck on the backside of a residential property. Jame, Joel, Joe, and Keith did the bulk of the work. We all climbed on top for a picture when it was done.

Three Chickadees have flown from the nest and four new eggs have replaced them. We can hear them singing inside the forest along with the Wood Thrush and the Catbirds. Catbirds sometimes hide in the tree line and make that sound that gave them the name catbird. Other times, they perch on a branch and cut loose in a mockingbird imitation (and a pretty good one). We can still hear the Gray Tree Frogs and have recently begun hearing Green Frogs.

Everything is growing. Vegetables, flowers, and herbs are looking good.  I am especially interested in the carrots and the sweet potatoes. Mountain laurel came into bloom this past month. The state flower, it is in abundance back here. Wild berries are starting to come on. We are marking a lot of stuff to be taken out. Growth gets thick quickly. I have begun cutting down some trees with a handsaw from Wicked Tree Gear. It is hard work but I think I just like the name of the saw. Seriously, I am using some Wicked Tree Gear.

The smells are outstanding. We pull sassafras up to smell the roots. We scratch birch and it smells like root beer (around here, they call it birch beer). I look up at a blue sky and a song comes to mind. Electric Light Orchestra sang “Mr. Blue Sky” first in 1977 and it never gets old. I think I’ll add that to my summer soundtrack.

Deer have started to be more visible. They don’t hide well this time of year when their coats are golden brown and the background forest is bright green and their velvet is showing. Rabbits are living under the shed and love to play in the yard. I suspect they also play in the garden.

The Hummingbirds are having fun. It is amazing to me that they fly so far. It is interesting that they spend time in tropical places but they always return to this valley. I have started to see Monarch Butterflies also. I wonder how many creatures travel the world but come here to get their game on? The weather has been getting hotter. For a while, it was like a vacation destination. Fifties in the morning, seventies afternoon, cool again at night. Book your flight.

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August on Parade

Last week I was stuck in traffic on route 581 and wondering if people have simply forgotten how to use an exit ramp. Out of nowhere came the bouncy flight pattern of a bright yellow bird. Who would have expected to see a goldfinch right here and right now? I should have got out of the car and cheered.

A monarch flies by. I have been seeing a lot of them lately. I follow it to a milkweed patch where I find a future monarch full of colorful black, white, and yellow stripes. This is where monarchs, future and present, go for dinner. I am not much interested in joining them for dinner, but I think it would be fun to join them for an adventure to the Sierra Madres. This is what the fifth generation of monarchs do for a good time.

I watch a cormorant swimming on the surface of the lake when suddenly he is gone. Only to appear again about thirty yards further ahead. Cormorants are excellent divers and capable swimmers. They also appear to have quite an appetite. I also like the orange color of his chin. Not too far away I find a Wood Duck blooming into his fall colors.

While near the water, I can’t help but notice the number of Whitetails. They are in front of me, behind me, and on both sides. They fly by and hover close as if they are trying to figure out what I might be. Of course, I am referring to a black and white dragonfly called the Common Whitetail.

Not far into the forest I find a spider web. At first I don’t even notice, but on the way by when the sun hits it just right, I am greeted with an incredible work of art. How did she know I would be passing by this way? I wonder if she finished it just for me? Is she looking for applause?

I was walking a trail when I spotted a peregrine falcon. This is undoubtedly the fastest creature on earth. As soon as I get close enough for a look, she flies off. Surprisingly, not too far ahead I catch up to her and again when I get close she flies away. Unbelievably, I find her again further up the trail. I begin to think of how the tortoise became so famous when he beat the hare. What are people gonna think of me when they find out I am keeping pace with a peregrine?

A loud crack gets my attention and I quickly look to where the noise came from. I expect to find something large looking my way. Instead I watch as a tree topples over. (So if I weren’t here to hear it  – would it have made a sound)?

I am astonished at the colors I find on the forest floor. I am talking about the fungus. I have found golden yellow (and it was shaped like a butterfly). Glowing oranges and burnt oranges and bright whites. Strange shades of purples and reds, some of them spotted. Crayola should take a field trip into the forest and take notes.

Early one morning I find a snake on a rock and turtles sunning on a log. They don’t move as I pass but I wonder if they are cheering as I walk by. Like I cheer the finch, the web, and the falling tree. And the whole time the August sounds of cicadas by day and katydids at night are like a band playing for all our comings and goings.

It is as if creation is on parade. Sometimes we walk right past it, other times it marches on by. We watch and we are being watched as the band plays. We join August on parade. And we wonder, did we walk through August? Or did it pass us by?

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Summer Stuff

This morning, I was standing in the middle of Sherman’s Creek under a clear blue sky. There are so many reasons to love summer. One of them is fishing on days like this. Another one is berries. And I have tasted the first wineberries of the season. It has been a great year for berries, I have been eating black raspberries. But it will be hard to beat this year’s mulberries. I remember spreading a sheet under a mulberry tree and climbing it to shake the ripe berries out. (For the record, that is effective). This year I did not use a sheet, but I did think about standing underneath a tree with my mouth open until a ripe one fell into my mouth. (For the record, not so effective). This past week, we ate blueberry and mulberry pies. They tasted like summer.

We also grilled asparagus and corn on the cob and spiedies. I was introduced to spiedies while living in upstate New York as a teenager. They are tasty marinated meats and quite frankly I can’t believe they are not a nationwide delicacy by now. Anyway, spiedies cause me to reminisce.

It has been hot, a perfect time to roll the windows down and belt out what happens to be playing on the radio. Recently, I have been enjoying Greta Van Fleet’s “Safari Song.” Yes, they remind me of Led Zeppelin. It was a Led Zeppelin song that became the theme for our senior prom. I did not attend prom and did not listen much to Led Zeppelin. Not because I disliked them, at the time I pretty much listened only to Waylon Jennings. And of course to Willie Nelson, whenever he sang with Waylon Jennings. Anyway, over the years I have become a Led Zeppelin fan and that is probably the reason I like Greta Van Fleet.

I really like Chris Stapleton’s “Midnight Train to Memphis.” What can I say except Chris Stapleton rocks. He reminds me of one of my favorite singers, Mac Powell. But I suspect the real reason I like him is because he does a great job singing covers of Waylon Jennings.

The more I think about it, summer seems like a time for reminiscing. And I recently heard a song I would hear once in a while when in high school (when I wasn’t listening to Waylon Jennings). Gerry Rafferty sang a song called “Baker Street.” It was never my favorite, but I could listen to the Foo Fighters sing that song all summer long. I especially like the live versions. What is not to like about the Foo Fighters?

The more I think about it, I am a reminiscing fool. All this thinking about school and music makes me think I should put on my Angus Young schoolboy shorts and scoot across a stage while singing “Thunderstruck.” But, Lebron borrowed that outfit and hasn’t returned it yet. Anyway, I will be leaving next week to go back to school. Hope the berries are ripe in Kentucky. Hope I get to wade in a creek. Maybe being back in school is the reason I am so reminiscent. Whatever the reason, I know what I’ll be listening to on the ride. Hope Lebron gives my clothes back before I have to leave.

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Summertime Serenade

There is something enchanting about the forest at night. I was gathering firewood and setting up the tent when I first noticed the volume of background song being offered by cicadas. This continued while I took a short hike, while I read by the fire, and while I cooked meat on a stick. Cicada song is so common in the summer that we do not always notice when it is there. What is even more surprising is that I did not notice when it stopped. It was nearly dark when I realized the only song I could hear were katydids. It made me wonder what this sounded like at the transition. Is there a moment at dusk where harmonies can be heard as cicada song fades into a katydid chorus? The katydids were still singing after I had laid down looking up into a starry sky.

I awoke in the middle of the night, startled by a light shining directly into the tent. I turned slowly to see where it was coming from and was relieved to find the moon had positioned itself perfectly overhead to wake me with moonshine (don’t tell my mother). I lay back down and noticed the katydids were quiet and the constant background sound was now provided by the nearby stream. A whip poor will added occasional notes as I faded back to sleep.

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Here is an excerpt from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now. Thank you for checking it out and double thanks for passing it along to a friend. I hope it is more pleasure than it is torture…

http://www.fieldnotesfromhereandnow.com/is-anything-safe-around-here/

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I have been reading The Book of Deadly Animals by Gordon Grice.  There, he tells of a boy who walked along a trail when “a ridge of leaves reared to bite him on the foot.”  That ridge of leaves was later identified as a Copperhead.  I am reminded that Annie Dillard once sat beside a quarry pond, fascinated by a Copperhead, and brushing away a mosquito.  When suddenly, she watched the mosquito land on the snake and it “seemed to bore like a well drill through surface rock to fluid.”  She watched until the mosquito finished its deed “and sluggishly took to the air.”  Earlier in the book she had declared that “any copperhead anywhere is an archer in cover.”  In this instance, it appears that the archer became the target.  I tend to notice mosquitoes most when I am the target.

It is beginning to get warmer.  Many of us look forward to warmer weather.  But if there is anything we can count on to be the companion of warmer weather it is more pests.  I have already logged at least one mosquito bite.  Many of us have itched and scratched our way through many summers and mosquitoes have often been the source of greater problems, even fatal disease.  (Millions continue to die from malaria today).

Both genders of mosquito feed on plant juices but the female also takes meals from the blood of animals including us.  She requires the extra protein when she is about to produce eggs.  Grice describes the process like this; “she cuts through the layers of skin with her sawlike parts of her proboscis, then inserts its central tube for siphoning.  In the process she injects saliva into the wound.  This saliva contains anesthetic substances to prevent the victim from noticing the bite until it’s too late.”

Fortunately, warmer weather causes the brown bat to become more active also.  Just one of these little flying creatures is able to eat as many as 1000 mosquitoes an hour.  Open the caves.  Make room in your attics.  Leave the tall trees.  Hang a bat house.  Let’s do anything we can do to get these flying critters living close by and gobbling up these pests each night.

There was once an orchard just outside the borough.  Long after it stopped bearing fruit, the orchard continued to produce morels.  Along with mushrooms, I would always bring home a number of parasitic arthropods.  The one that concerned me most, the blacklegged tick (sometimes called the deer tick), is a well-known carrier of Lyme disease.  The disease is transmitted when the tick takes its slow blood meal from us.

Untreated, Lyme disease can affect skin, joints, heart, and the nervous system.  It can affect concentration, short-term memory and sleep.  It can even cause brain inflammation.  Some who are diagnosed with Lyme disease complain of anxiety and aggression.  On a Sunday morning in March 2009, Terry Sedlacek, diagnosed with Lyme disease, walked up the aisle of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill and shot the preacher through the heart.  This has prompted some debate whether Lyme disease is related to violence and mental illness.

I have heard that chickens, guineas, and poultry are an excellent means of tick control.  I am not sure that there is a lot of data to support it, but I am for it.  Turn loose the chickens!

Still it would hardly make a dent in the population.  As Grice points out, “any objective observer taking stock of Earth’s fauna would note that arthropods – creatures with external skeletons and jointed limbs – outnumber everything else put together.”  We do not often fear insects because we know that we can defeat them one on one.  Yet, Grice goes on to say that “fair fights are rare on our planet, and, as it turns out, some insects are better at killing us than any other animal.”

I have fond memories of summer days at Litwhiler’s Pond.  On one of them, I ran out of bait before I ran out of desire to fish.  A walk around the pond prompted a number of grasshoppers to leap out of my path.  I decided to place one on a hook and discovered that catfish were fond of them.   I have always liked grasshoppers.  Even earlier, I would catch them just for the fun and place them in jars.  It was good child entertainment to hold one between your fingers and watch the brown spittle come out that we had learned to call “tobacco juice.”

But grasshoppers are more complicated than I then knew.  When grasshoppers gather in great numbers, they begin to change.  Their body grows in size.  Wings grow clear and strong.  Their shape shifts to accommodate flight.  They whirl in the air like dust devils and swarm for miles.  And they eat with shocking voracity.  This phase of the grasshopper is called a locust.  And when this phase occurs, they may be our greatest rival for food.  Grice states that this is the cause for thousands of deaths every year.

I am sure that Pharaoh and the ancient Egyptians could tell us a few stories.  Grice tells one from Laura Ingalls Wilder.  She talks of a dark cloud that came in without wind.  Insects fell and sounded like a hail storm.  This was followed by the sound of chewing “like the sound of a thousand scissors, some said.”  Until everything was gone.  The prairie grasses, the family wheat crop, everything – gone.  Grice tells it like this “the family fell on hard times, and at night they could hardly sleep for the sensation of crawling on their skin.  On Sunday they arrived at church, their best clothes crawling with grasshoppers and stained with brown spittle.”

And if you are able to avoid the mosquito, the black-legged tick, and the grasshopper; you still might be living with another arthropod, their cousin, the dust mite.  According to Grice, scientists have discovered that even in clean houses, our pillows are up to forty percent dust mite feces.  (Bet you didn’t want to know why your pillow felt heavier than when it was new).   House dust mites live on the scalp and in the eyebrows of humans as well as in bedding.  Grice claims that half of us are infested.

And while sleeping on that pillow, do not forget the kissing bug.  Or, as it is also known, the blood sucking assassin bug.  We are told that it is attracted to carbon dioxide.  So, while you sleep, it will bite around your lips.  Therefore, the name ‘kissing bug.’  “Sleep tight…”

The United Nations may be preparing to launch a counter attack.  Last month USA Today published an article stating that we are looking at bugs as a way to help feed the world’s twenty first century population, projected to reach 9 billion by 2050.  “Bugs are plentiful and nutritious.  Besides a satisfying crunch, insects provide high fat, protein, vitamin, fiber and mineral content.”  There are 10 million different insects and some likely taste better than others.  Maybe it is time to bite back, and discover which ones are the tastiest.

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