Cold fire

Overheard in a local check-out line: “We just didn’t have a fall this year.”

Boots OsageOh, 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.

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A New Year’s Day walk below the wind

IMG_2737This new year looks bleak, with harsh, cold wind and an absence of snow. Thursday afternoon, I walked down the lane and had to fight to open the gate against bluster, feeling the cold bite of the latch’s surface through my work gloves. No one followed me to the gate in hopes of treats. I’m sure no apple slices could beat shelter on the sunny side of any outbuilding.

I made it just about 50 yards down the road before ducking down into the lowland along Cranberry Run, where the drop behind Red Fox Cabin blocked the wind. So cold were the trees that they hummed, except for Osage orange trees. These woven, thorny trees make sort of a whirring whine in frigid wind chill (truly exhilarating when one is walking on the trail at night…alone.)

IMG_2736Winter came on so suddenly that many of the Osage fruits are green and whole, their sticky white latex ooze flash-frozen to the ground. The fruit is not poisonous to us mammals, but I hear it’s not much to taste. Further on down the creek, on the east side of the footbridge, I saw something, maybe a fox squirrel, made use of an orange as a food source.

The sun is cold and farther away at the start of the year, a white sun in gray blue sky. Even the bane of the understory, bush honeysuckle, is leafless this year without a snow blanket. No green, other than the Osage fruits, was visible on Jan. 1, 2015. This is a good thing, I know; maybe this will give the maples and oak seedlings a chance to fill in the spaces left where the 2012 derecho took out so many mature trees.

IMG_2739IMG_2734The wind was so high and wild above the creek valley that I saw few birds, not even on the old stone quarry. This winter it is full of water, frozen with reflections of rich, ruddy browns, gold, and sky. There are no breaks in the still quarry’s surface, but Cranberry Run’s riffles keep a brisk pace, leaving open holes here and there, especially below the high blue clay banks at the northwest point of the nature preserve. Two birds, so in shadow that I couldn’t identify the species more than to say they are large songbirds, dipped in the water below a bare root hackberry that has held the top of the bank for as long as I can remember.

IMG_2741The camera, a treasured Rebel of my dad’s, said ‘no more’ to the cold, so I tucked it inside my blanket coat and headed back the way I came. At the top of the hill near The Quarry Farm entrance sign, I tucked my chin closer to the camera, wrapped my scarf around my head and ran for the gate.

With my eyes so adjusted to discerning the different hues of browns, the greeting party under the apple tree was a shock to the senses. Wrapped in new thermal coats, Buddy and the boys were like presents under the tree.

What a happy sight to begin a new year. Rain is promised for Saturday. Luckily, these coats of many colors are waterproof. I think I’ll stay inside and watch.

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When the Frost Is On the Donkey

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.