The Last Day of August

Walking around the pond

When every flower, weed and frond

Is in full beauty

As if by duty

To show off the last of their blooming.

It is a bittersweet time; we have been enjoying all the flowers, warm sun and all the garden produce for months now. Fall is on its way. Oh, there will be more hot days and warm breezes, but at night you can feel the oncoming change.

As if to have one last hurrah, the foliage around the pond breaks out its last spectacular glory. There are the tiny orange jewel weed flowers; just touch one of the seed pods and the seed pops out to make future jewel weed. The milkweed pods are full of satiny white fluff; blow on them and one by one, their delicate floss with a tiny brown seed at its bottom drifts off to land in other places to make more milkweed.

It was Mom who taught me how to make the jewel weed seeds pop. It was Ba, my grandmother, who showed me how the milkweed reseeds itself each year. We used to break off wands of the fluffy stuff and run with them to scatter the seeds and watch them float on the breeze.

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Jewel Weed (from http://www.bio.brandeis.edu)

Milkweed (from http://www.bio.brandeis.edu)

Even though Winter is coming up behind Fall, this is a glorious time. My favorite place to watch the changes are around that pond. Yesterday, the last day of August, there were ducks on the water, and a beautiful blue heron was standing patiently in the reeds, waiting for his lunch to swim by.

The rambling roses have dropped their creamy white and pink petals, and now sport their orange-y red rose hips.

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From Flower Talk blogger.

Gorgeous purple lupine are everywhere.

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Lupines (photography from Snakeroot Farm).

And then there are one of my favorites; Queen Ann’s Lace. They always looked like fairy parasols to me.

Photo by Jordan Meeter

There are more flowers of course, but these are my favorites. Instead of mourning the last of Summer, let’s take the time to appreciate all the particular splendor that Fall brings. If you let it, it will soften the thought of the oncoming Winter. It, too, has its own glorious beauty.

But for now, let’s enjoy the gaudy and glamorous parade of the coming Fall!

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Appreciation Walks

When I was a lot younger, I ran two miles every day, rain or shine. When I developed shin splints, I shifted down to race-walking. Decades later, I am a plain old walker. I am also strengthening my right knee (replacement, then a few months ago, a revision), and use a cane when walking long distances.

But I found something wonderful in just walking; the walks have turned into “appreciation walks.” I stopped mourning the fact that I can no longer run (and you know, I really don’t miss it anymore!), and began looking and listening while I walked.

My favorite walk is around our town pond. It is ringed with reeds and cat-o-nine tails, yellow iris, buttercups, dandelions, purple vetch, honeysuckle, daisies, etc. On a sunny days, the turtles like to cluster on a few logs to sun themselves. Most days there will be ducks and a few Canadian geese in the pond, and, in summer, a few gorgeous white swans appear as well. Red-wing blackbirds build their nests in the reeds, and the males are very territorial and will dive bomb you if they see you as a threat.

Blue herons like to fish in the pond. As they are my favorite bird, I love to watch them standing still, waiting for breakfast to swim by. They strike lightning fast and then slowly move to another area to stand and wait.

Their wingspan is nearly six feet, and their long legs trail behind them as they fly. They build their nests in tall trees, preferably near marshes and streams. It’s hard to imagine those long tall birds nesting, but they fold up their legs just as neatly as a folding ruler.

One day I was standing still and watching a blue heron in the reeds, as usual waiting for fish. However, the spot he chose was very close to a red-wing blackbird’s nest, and the male was visibly agitated that the heron was so close to it. As I watched, the male red-wing dive-bombed the heron to no avail; it just kept standing there, watching for minnows.

Finally the red-wing male jumped onto the heron’s back and hopped up and down on it, trying to get it to move. I had to stifle my laughter watching this; honestly it was that funny. Had there been thought-balloons over the two birds’ heads, they probably would have looked like this:

Red-wing male: “Hey, you—go away! You’re too close to my nest!”

Heron: “I have no interest in your nest; I am merely trying to catch my breakfast.”

Red-wing male: “Go, go, go! Move it”

Heron: “As I told you, I am just fishing; I don’t care about your nest!”

Red-wing male: “Move it now or I will peck you to death!”

Heron: (sighing) “All right, you annoying little twit!” and flew off to better (and quieter) feeding grounds.

When I was a child, my grandmother and I used to pick the dried milkweed pods filled with their silky silvery fluff and run with them to scatter the seeds. It was lovely to see all those little parachutes of fluff with one tiny brown seed at the bottom float off in the breeze.

It was she who taught me about birds and their habits, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, rabbits and deer. It is she whom I think of each and every time I walk down to the pond. I can almost hear her voice in my ear; “watch and listen!” And I do.

I have never come back from one of these appreciation walks without feeling happy and grateful.

 

 

Birds I Love: Blue Herons

There’s something about blue herons that is absolutely mesmerizing. I have loved them since I was a child. At the time, we lived in a huge apartment with a big sun porch just off the kitchen. It overlooked the lake, and the small wooden dock was often visited by a blue heron or two.

Herons look blue-gray from a distance (they are actually gray), and they are rather stately looking birds. They will patiently stand statue-like in the shallows, waiting for their breakfast to swim by. When they see what they want, they strike with a lightning-quick stab of their strong beaks.

Blue herons like both saltwater and fresh water, and they can be found on coastlines, marshes, rivers and the like. They build stick nests on the top of trees. When you see them fly away, with their necks tucked back and long legs trailing behind them, you feel as though a miracle has crossed your path.

Once a few years ago, I was walking around the town pond and saw a blue heron standing patiently in the reeds and cat-o-nine tails near the water. It was nesting season for all the birds in that area; red-winged black birds, goldfinches, cardinals, and the very occasional blue bird.

The red-winged blackbirds get especially touchy during nesting season. They will chase after a bird three times their size if they feel that their nesting area is being threatened. I noticed that there was a blue heron standing in the shallows. Evidently, a red-winged blackbird in the same area felt that the heron was too close to his nest.

As I watched, the red-wing jumped on the heron’s back, and hopped up and down on it! The heron, looking mildly annoyed, turned its head to look at the red-wing. If there could have been a thought bubble above his head, it would have read: “Hey, now—no need to get upset! I’m just hunting for my breakfast; I’m not going to bother you or your wife and kids.”

How wonderful it is when we get to see nature up close and personal!

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