The old stone quarry has changed a lot over 150 years, from not being there at all to a horse-drawn limestone operation, from spring-fed fishing hole to wetland. Black willows and other water-loving trees and plants grow there now. Wood ducks, wild turkeys, owls, squirrels, tree frogs and herons roost high above the banks. They see you before you even know they are there, falling silent or bursting from the branches in a great show of chatter or feathers.
One tree leaned at the northwest shore for as long as I can remember. My Gran said she used to make a blanket nest for Uncle Keith in its roots while the family fished for bluegill. The tree lived its life, watching two- and four-leggers wear a path below.
Last weekend the dogs and I found the tree in pieces. The path is strangely open now. Stick-tights thrive in the open sunlight, laying waste to another pair of shorts and leaving the future of my t-shirt in doubt as well. Thankfully, jewelweed grows nearby to stop the burr itch. I wonder if the wild ginger will move to shade further along the bank.
The tree’s fall was a long time coming. Not long after the tree died over a decade ago, its bark weathered away. Dad parked his ATV next to the tree to take photographs of the butterflies, dragonflies and other insects that perched on the smooth trunk. Walking the path sent wildlife running in every direction. The putt-putt of the ATV didn’t. From the driver’s seat, Dad filmed an ichneumon wasp, its long ovipositor extended into a woodpecker’s drill work.
We still have the photos, as well as Dad’s drawings of the wasp. The sketch was one of several used on a poster about beneficial insects. The illustrations are a reminder how nature and art are linked. Here on these 50 acres and beyond invisible parcel lines, the native arts must be nurtured as much as the first grasses and plants that secure this watershed.
Overheard in a local check-out line: “We just didn’t have a fall this year.”
Oh, but we did. It was an autumn rich with analogous pigments running up and down the warm side of the color wheel. Northwest Ohio had a Fall on fire. Fortunately, the fire wasn’t a consuming inferno like the one raging through the Great Smokey Mountains and points around, though it is dry here. Cranberry Run doesn’t run and the old quarry bed is hollow with one soft, spring-fed spot near its center. Chewed bits of osage orange are scattered on the east bank.
Those bits are a concern, not because they’ll harm the chewer but because quite a few have been chewed and it’s not even half way through December. Osage oranges (also called hedge apples) aren’t a menu choice for native mammals around here, according to tropical ecologist Dan Janzen of the University of Pennsylvania and Paul Martin, a paleoecologist at the University of Arizona, scientists who teamed up to develop the concept of ecological anachronisms.
Those honeylocust pods and osage oranges that still cling to their mothers stand out as deep purple and chartreuse highlights among bare branches. At night, tree branches spiderweb toward the stars, or as is the case tonight, into heavy clouds pushed by wind so strong that it’s snowing sideways. This morning, stars shown in that sky. As I ran down the road before dawn, Orion was still trying to grab the handle of the Big Dipper as the Hunter’s legs slipped below the horizon line to the other side of the world. This weekend, the white reflected blaze of the Cold Moon will hide all but both of these constellations brightest stars.
If you join us in the back tallgrass field for the December 10 Cold Moon hike, you’ll appreciate the brilliance of this, unless partly cloudy predictions turn to mostly cloudy. Cloud cover seems likely, but we may venture out anyhow.
But before the clouds move in, we can appreciate the cold fire that builds most evenings of late, in full view of Red Fox Cabin’s front porch.
There was a hoary frost this morning. Donkey and goats were the first to be watered and fed, mostly because Buddy’s braying echoed resoundingly across the fields to bounce off the neighboring homes and farms. Buddy must have been at his post in the southeast corner of the paddock, watching the house for signs of movement for some time since a thick layer of frost iced his back. Once the boys were satisfied with fresh hay and the roosters had their feed, I had to run for the camera.
I figured I would take another photo on my way back for more water buckets. Just one more. The sunflowers still have a few seeds to feed the birds. Almost to the front door at the top of the path that leads to the nature preserve, Gertie’s blankets hung to dry. The bright contrasts of orange, yellow and green struck against the crystal grays, blues and browns of the treeline.
Although there are few this year, the osage orange trees have dropped their fruit beside Cranberry Run. The only green otherwise are the dreadful invasive honeysuckle, but the red berries of the shrub are undeniably jewels for the returning slate-colored juncos and other snowbirds. I made it to the old stone quarry in time to capture the mist and sunrise above the wetland. Photos never do their subject true justice, but there you have it at the top of the post.
The frost layers have peeled away and are snowing to the ground. The sun is high enough that some of the frost is more like cold rain, at least under the trees. The hens have eaten their fill for now and Beatrice is on cleanup. I’m off to the road myself.