I know I’ve said it before, but white heath is my favorite late-season native wildflower. When all the other flowers have spent themselves, white heath is just getting started. White heath keeps going till the last minute, when the themometer hits 32 on some early morning in October. White heath is always the last flower to leave the party of the tallgrass prairie summer.
Everybody hates white heath, except me. I have finally convinced the people who wield the weed whackers around here not to whack it, but I keep a few in out-of-the-way places, just in case. There’s a big patch this year by the compost, and it turns out I’m not the only one who loves it, after all. The honey bees appreciate it. There aren’t a lot of flowers left, and most of the others peaked a week ago, or more. It’s a glorious, sunny, warm day today, but there won’t be many more of these, and the bees know to make the most of every bit of pollen they can gather before the cold sets in.
I am not so industrious. I struggle to match my energy to the time available. I have gotten some good work done on my studio renovation this week, but it’s far from ready, and I didn’t really get anything done today.
Tomorrow I’ll take a lesson from the bees, I promise. The bees know.
Driving on KS highway 177 this afternoon, I saw twenty-two monarch butterflies heading south, as well as half a dozen or more little flyers that passed too fast for me to be sure they were monarchs. There’s only one time I see that many flying south: fall migration.
Anecdotally, I’ve seen more monarchs this year than last. While their numbers are plummeting throughout North America, here in Chase County, native milkweeds are still abundant, so we know monarchs who hatch and live here can find plenty of their host flower.
I’ve never gotten a good shot of a monarch, so here’s a cat picture.
We’re having an unusually early and very deep cold snap, but last week capped a lovely autumn. At the end of the kids’ Thanksgiving vacation, we went for a prairie walk with their grandma (“Baba”) at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Right away Kiran insisted she’d had enough of being with me and her sister over the previous five days, so I was free to walk ahead, listen to the quiet, and take photographic advantage of the prairie and the angle of the sun to the hills. The writer in me thinks I should tell a story, but all I seem to find are expansive horizons, light on grasses, dormant prairie flora in intimate contrast to distant, vibrant children. Reflections on a creek, more vivid than the tiny living fish hiding below the surface. It’s a story for pictures, not words.
The plant world is going quiet this time of year, but most of the animals must continue their daily lives through the winter. Among birds, some leave for warmer climes, while the Canada goose is just arriving.
I believe there are a few here in the Flint Hills year round, but in autumn their population swells. It’s not uncommon to see them winging in the late afternoon or early evening, as they move from gleaning the fields by day to their watery bed for the night.
The Canada goose was hunted nearly to extinction in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, it was thought by some to be completely extinct for many years. Some remnant populations were discovered in the 1960s, and after that efforts were begun to restore this fine, large bird to its former glory in Kansas. In the 1980s, ten thousand birds were released into the wild by the Kansas Fish and Game Commission. By the turn of the century, they were quite common in many places, and in fall and winter Chase Countians saw them daily. When you see geese flying and honking in their signature V formation, think what it would be like if they were gone again, the skies empty and quiet.
Ted Andrews associates geese with stories and storytelling. He says that goose is a fine totem for writers, and recommends writing with a goose quill pen. This is said to stimulate the imagination and aid in working through creative blocks.
Geese mate for life. How many humans can sustain such fidelity? Andrews also recommends sleeping on bedding made from goose feathers to promote marital fidelity and fertility.
I’m sure there is much, much more to be learned from goose. Much of what we learn from animals must be based in personal experience, however. When do you see them, do they talk to you? Listen with you heart to hear their message.
The weather has suddenly cooled. Today was lovely, sunny and mild, but the nights are chilly, and I’ve had to put another quilt on the bed.
Gulls have been making their semi-annual appearance. It’s been over a week since I saw the first, a group of perhaps a couple dozen; today I saw but one couple. They may be the last stragglers.
Turkey vultures are restless. I can feel that they will leave soon.
I saw a scissor-tailed flycatcher yesterday. I was surprised that it was still here. But, the scissor-tail’s migration is a fraction of the vultures’ so maybe they’re not in a hurry to leave.
I looked in the cabinet today and was surprised how many beans I have there. It’s almost as if I’ve unconsciously stored up for winter. Perhaps it’s possible after all for humans to follow the subtle promptings of the seasons, if we allow ourselves, and if we immerse ourselves in the sensory ocean of the natural world.
Why not dive in and see how it changes you?