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Friday, October 9, 2015

How Many Deer Do You Count?

Watching and Being Watched

I admit it. I like to watch the wildlife. Sometimes they don't know they are being watched. Sometimes they suspect it. Sometimes when they notice me, they fly away or run away or hide. At other times, they fly right at me and make me step back. But did you know that sometimes I feel watched, too?

Yesterday, I was looking at a dragonfly that was perched on the very edge of a bare Weigela limb. When it noticed me, it flew off like some kind of miniature helicopter. No, really, that's what I was thinking, when I saw it fly off. And then moments later the air was torn by the noise of a giant engine very close to the ground, and Bow, who was in the outer pen screeched and the leaves on all the trees trembled, and then I saw it: a black helicopter flying pretty low over my property.

Keep in mind the the camera makes it seem further away. But it felt really close, and it was a little scary, for me and Bow and the dogs.  And then it went away, and I went back to my voyeurism.

In the calm and quiet of the ordinary every day life of the pasture, I spotted a great spangled fritillary on a thistle plant.

When it saw that I had spotted it, instead of flying away, it seemed a little angry at my for my invasion of its privacy, and it flew right at me.

Then it landed not too far away, daring me to come in for a closer picture. I wonder what would have happened if I had flown right at that black helicopter as a response to its presence!

Later in the day, while I was admiring the changing leaves of the maple tree, I saw a squirrel in the adjoining oak tree. I tried to come in closer to get a better view of the squirrel, but it hid on the other side of the branch from me. Giving up, I notice that Nile the cat was climbing up the oak, using only his  claws to hang on to the tree.

In the evening, the younger deer was grazing alone in my front yard.

It suspected that I was watching, but until I stepped out it was not sure.

Its mother was waiting just around the corner of the house, so that's why it did not escape into the pasture, which would have been faster. I felt bad when I saw the panic in its eyes.

But the mother and child were reunited and later went back into the woods together. If the black helicopters ever come for me and Bow, I wish we could escape into the woods and disappear, too.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Two Deer Grazing in the Front Yard

Bow used to tell me things like "There are five brown cows across the street." He was communicative like that. But now that he is a teen, when I spot wildlife in the front yard before dinner, it makes him impatient.

Yesterday, just before dinner, I spotted two deer in the front yard. They looked like a mother and child, and they were grazing placidly.

I filmed them through the window of the front door, so the quality of the video is not that good, but I knew that if I went out, they would probably just run away. Bow could see them, too, because when he stands at the front of the pens he has a clear view of the proceedings outside. He stood and watched for a while, then he started making raspberry sounds, which prompted me to open the front door and go outside, but, as expected, the deer completely disappeared once I did that.

However, I did see what may have been a third deer further away jumping into the pasture to join them. This is a family of deer that I sometimes see with my headlights reflected in their eyes when I come home at night for a drive into town.

Bow did not say anything about the deer. He just wanted me to hurry up and get dinner ready.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Nature Hedging Its Bets

The temperature has been highly variable. The very day when I wrote about how cold it was, in the afternoon it was suddenly very warm again. I now can see that nature is hedging its bets, allowing some plants to carry on as if winter is almost upon us, while others behave as if it is spring.

This morning, Bow chose to go outside, But yesterday he did not, preferring to wrap himself in a blanket. I talked about how cold it was with the delivery lady, but she said that, actually, it was rather nice out. In the afternoon, I went for a walk, and I saw that the yellow butterfly was going about its business as usual, and there were still plenty of purple thistle flowers to accommodate it.

I try to draw closer, but the yellow butterfly merely flitted off, landing on another thistle flower further away.

Everywhere there were new flowers that had just now bloomed.

A blackberry bush was blossoming as if it had every intention of very soon bearing a berry.

There were tiny ants on the little flowers sprouting in the grass,

Small yellow flowers, looking a little like bidens, came up from the cut grass. And on the fruit trees, while most of the branches looked dead, a lone blossom opened here and there. Nature is hedging its bets. The plants and the insects don't know for sure which way things are going, so they are investing in one outcome and its opposite, hoping to survive in the long run.

I think this is something about natural selection -- and the economy --  and freedom of choice --  that is often misunderstood, It's not necessary that we all know exactly what the future holds. Survival of the fittest is not about getting better and better, nor is it about having foresight about future changes in the environment. It is about whoever happens to be best suited in a particular event, under specific circumstances, doing well. And nobody needs to know in advance who that lucky survivor is going to be.

Suppose that we don't know for sure  what is the best diet or the best health care plan or the optimal solution of every problem. Isn't it good that different individuals make different choices? Nobody can know for sure which decision will turn out to be best, but at least we will not all perish for the same reason due to centralized planning. Somebody will do well, even though we may not know who. Maybe all the chimpanzees in America are about to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps from which they will never emerge and where they will not reproduce. In that case, it is good there are also chimpanzees left in other countries. But supposing all the chimpanzees in the wild are killed by the native populations among whom they live? Isn't it good that there are captive chimpanzees in North America, and in Europe and Asia, too? Do we really want to put all our eggs in one basket?

Who is to say what will happen? It is better to hedge our bets. A free economy does not work well because people are smart,  and they make wise choices. It is not even a certainty that those who make a fortune do not do so in some small measure due to luck. Freedom of choice works well, because not everyone is doing the same thing. Not all are making the same mistakes, and so some will thrive, no matter how many others go belly up. If we don't allow that to happen, then we force everyone to go down together.

A deer I saw yesterday after dinner
If global warming keeps us from having a winter at all, then the cherry trees and serviceberry and the blackberry bushes will produce lots of fruit, and the wildlife will prosper.

And if it grows cold, and we have to wait till next spring, that will be fine, too. Either way, there are some who are already preparing and investing in the future. Some will win, and some will lose, but life as we know it will go on.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Adapting to the Cold

Colder weather means dressing more warmly, or in Bow's case, wrapping up.

Bow refuses to wear clothes, but he does appreciate the value of a good blanket.

Colder weather also means more home-cooked midday meals.

I don't have a lot of time to spend on cooking, so it's usually something I can whip up fast. Yesterday it was this low prep time pork dish.

Today, it's oatmeal.

Every time we get whole milk, with the cream included, the oatmeal is especially good.

Outside, some of the fruit trees have not yet decided whether it is autumn or spring.

Nile the cat climbs the tree in order to make a closer inspection. He also complains a lot while hawks circle, looking for their own dinner.

The purple milkweed pods are letting their seeds go loose.

And the Weigela bush, which had such beautiful blossoms to attract the bees this spring, is now sporting red fruit, as big as cherries.

I am almost tempted to try them, but they are not meant for humans.Or chimps. Yet I am sure somebody finds them tasty, or they would not have taken the bother of growing to be so attractive. The customer knows best.

Should we do things only because they pay? Do the trees and the flowers reckon with a return? Is every blossom an investment in a future that may or may not pay off?  What if the ultimate currency of life is calories, and staying warm on the inside is what it is all about?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Blossoms in the Cold

It has gotten cold lately. Shivery, goose-bumpy cold requiring, if not heating yet, at least blankets and warm jackets. But the more intrepid among us continue with business as usual. Bow, for one, is still going outside and staying out for long periods without complaint.

My new tenants moved into Orchard House last night. Their presence there will relieve me of the burden of having to heat the other house during the cold winter months. But I was surprised to see a pink rose still blooming on the front yard at Orchard House the day before, despite the bitter cold.

Of course, inside the blossom there was also an insect taking advantage. Where there are flowers, there  also are bugs.

In my pasture yesterday, I spotted a ladybug inside a thistle bloom. But the ladybug was green, as if with envy. Or maybe it was green from the cold, instead of being blue.

There was also a very busy bumblebee, seemingly covered with pollen, plying its trade despite the changing weather.

After all, if there are still flowers, why shouldn't the insects keep up with their usual business?

But surely all the flowers will fade soon, like these older thistle blooms that have gone to seed, and then what will the insects do?

Except that it's not really all that simple. Today, walking in the cold, cutting wind, wearing a jacket, I spotted brand new blossoms on a bare service berry tree.

Why would the tree choose to blossom at just such a time as this?

Isn't it a terrible waste of resources? Surely, there is not time enough before the first big freeze to grow any berries! I figured this must be an isolated fluke, until I saw the blossoms on the bare limbs of the first cherry tree in my orchard.

Just like the service berry, the first cherry tree has decided to bloom.

The branches are bare, the sky is grey, there is no sunlight or warmth, but still there are blossoms. And the first cherry tree is not alone in its error. The second cherry tree has sprouted a single open pink-centered blossom.

What is the world coming to?

Will we be picking cherries in November?

Even the lawn is sprouting new flowers that were not there a few days ago. And the honeysuckle seems ready with new buds just as the mature flowers are fading.

Everywhere I look, there are new flowers blooming, despite all the dying leaves.

With so much confusion about whether it is autumn or spring, it is not wonder that all the insects are still so active.

As I was taking my walk this afternoon, this spider was walking down the path, right ahead of me.

Sometimes nature gives us such mixed signals, assuring us of the hope of spring, when winter is right around the corner. Do not be deceived!

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Place Calls Itself My Home

by Kathy Freeze, Guest Blogger

[This is an excerpt from a longer series by Kathy Freeze on her recent visit to Yellowstone. Here Kathy tells of her experiences on Day Seven.]

We all have a place that we call ‘home’.  A physical place with 4 walls, a roof and a floor.  A table where we share our meals, a place where we sleep, love and laugh often with those we dearly love and adore.  Then, there are those places that our spirit and our heart recognizes as our true Home.  A place where we feel like we truly belong.  This place calls to my heart with a subtle quickening of my pulse and the swelling of my heart as it expands to accommodate the increased blood flow.  It touches my soul and whispers in my ear, “I know you and you know me.”  It makes me keenly aware that I have never really felt as anchored and centered as I do in this place.

Some people prefer the big city lights and throngs of people all around them.  Some people prefer the oceans and the sandy beaches.  Some people prefer deserts.  Some people prefer their small city lots and well-manicured, landscaped lawns.  Some people prefer small towns and others prefer their country homes, with lots of acres separating them from obnoxious neighbors.  But me, I prefer only a very few of my most beloved people around me and the solitude of the animals and the mountains.  My senses are filled with the energy from this place.  There was never a dull moment, even when we were just sitting and watching and nothing was happening.  The energy from this place seemed to make the hair rise on the back of my neck as the breeze blew across the valleys and as I stood peering through my scope watching for wolves in Lamar Valley.

Imagining what will come over a hill at any moment was enough to make me want to stay in Lamar Valley the rest of the trip.  But, we only had a partial day left to spend in the park, before we needed to start packing and heading out the next day.

Headed into Lamar Valley early morning on Day 7, this pronghorn buck struck a nice pose on the hillside on another misty, damp, cool day.

My job today was to watch out the left-hand side of the RV as we cruised along slowly, determined to find the Druid pack.  Not far into the drive, I called out “*something* at 9 o’clock”!  I had spotted 5 pronghorn running like crazy on a far away hillside.  As soon as we were stopped, I grabbed my spotting scope and tried to watch as pronghorn scattered and zigged and zagged around the hill.  Before I could get fully focused, I swore I saw a light-grey wolf in pursuit as they topped the crest of the hill and then they were gone.  I wasn’t 100% sure of the wolf spotting though, as I knew that Pronghorn are the second fastest mammal on the planet, able to attain speeds around 53 mph.  So, it made the sighting questionable - after all, why would a wolf waste energy on chasing something they weren’t likely to catch?

We decided to move on and ran across another wildlife jam.  We were too late to see them, but the jammers had spotted the Druid pack hunting in the nearby hills and they were headed east.  We decided to head back west, find a spot, park and wait.  And wait we did.  After another hour or two, we moved even further east, near the Yellowstone Association Institute and heard from the crowd gathered there that there was a report the wolves had been spotted chasing a herd of bison and they were headed this way.  We waited & waited for the herd and/ or the wolves to top the hill, but they never did in the 45 minutes or so that we waited.

After spending over 4 hours in Lamar Valley and eating our lunch there, we decided to head back to the VRBO to start laundry and the packing.  On the way back, yep, another jam!  Passersby told us the Momma black bear and her 2 cubs, who had eluded our cameras the last 2 trips through this same area, was actually down at the river in the ravine and could be easily spotted from the cliff’s edges.  Sure enough, there she was, carefully, patiently guiding her young cubs across the rocks.

I guess the cub thought if he would stay close enough she would help him.

SQUEEEEEE!!!!!!  A BABY looking so ADORABLE and so scared to follow Momma into the water.  Some reassurance and a gentle nuzzle from Momma.

But she isn’t giving in.  Yes, we are going forward and you must follow if you want to live.  Doesn’t he look so vulnerable and cute huddled on his rock?  I want to hug him and squeeze him and call him ‘George’!

Momma heads out and leaves the youngsters standing there looking helpless.

The one to the left decides he isn’t going to be left behind, but the one on the right is still unsure of his footing and the rushing water.  He loses his footing and slips into the rapids.  The onlookers panicked, thinking he was going to be swept downstream and his mother was going to let him drown.  From my viewpoint, she never even looked back at him, and I never heard him frantically calling for her help.

After what seemed like an eternity, the little cub managed to get out of the most powerful part of the flow and made his way into the shallower area to join his mother.  But now, the little fellow on the left is afraid to move.  I guess he saw what happened to his brother and is rethinking his strategy?

Nope, still not moving!  But the other little guy is make some progress toward his mother, even if he is losing some ground being pressed downstream.

More rough water to cross and Momma has made it to shore, the little guy presses on.

He makes it to shore with Momma, who is still not looking worried and still hasn’t looked back, but what about his brother?

He’s there....can you see him?

There he is!  They are soaked but they made it and Momma acts as if she knew they would all along.  I admire this Momma -- she just taught her cubs a valuable life lesson -- you have to learn to be strong and survive on your own.  Or die.

The cubs spent a lot of time shaking off the water, stopping to paw at their ears, as they walked along this beach.  I must have taken over 100 photos, but I won’t post all of them here....just a lot of them.  ;-)

Such cute little guys! 

The only time I saw Momma look back at them.  She loved them enough to let them do it on their own.  

Wow, what a day!