Saturday was a beautiful, sunny October day but a little on the windy side. The brisk gusts swirled around the maple trees, sending whirlwinds of orange and yellow leaves into the blue skies. The skies have been clear nearly every night, but the temperature didn’t drop below freezing until Saturday night. The first light frost covered the lawn but didn’t do much damage to the few remaining flowers. It’s the latest first frost I can remember here in this small valley.
Friday was 65 degrees and sunny, so I took a late afternoon walk up along the edge of the woods, then back down along the meadow creek. A bird call came to my ears, the single descending whine of a yellowbellied sapsucker. I had a little trouble seeing it at first, because it was a brown juvenile and blended in with the bark of an elm tree. It didn’t pay much attention to me and kept on with its search for insects in the bark of the tree trunk.
I love the way late afternoon sunshine spills down through the trees and across the meadow. The autumn-colored leaves seem to glow as the sun passed through them. A group of fancy black and yellow “Yellow Jackets” have gathered together on a fallen wild apple. I figured these apples must be pretty good so I tried one and, sure enough, autumn crunch and sweet as honey. I should pick a bag of these beauties before they freeze, but for now, a few in my pocket will remind me to go back to the apple tree.
I took a picture of the old school house Sunday afternoon, and it shows little frost damage to the flower beds. The ground was again covered with white frost on Monday morning, but the frost was a little heavier than yesterday. I had to scrape off the windshield, so I know it was colder.
I’ve seen several juvenile red-tailed hawks lately, and this morning I spotted one in a tree not far from the house. How alert and beautiful they are, ready for life and all its adventures. The frost may force some of them to move further south where they can find easy things to catch, like frogs, snakes salamanders and large insects. The young hawks that have learned how to catch moles and mice with regularity may stay around a little longer. The adult pair of red-tailed hawks that live in the valley often chase these young migrating hawks out of their hunting territory.
I was surprised to see a couple of butterflies on the morning after a frost. A lovely painted lady was fluttering from zinnia to zinnia in the warm morning sunshine. I saw few of her kind this summer, so I hope she has laid her eggs somewhere nearby. I was also very grateful to have a beautiful, big monarch butterfly join us at the zinnia bed. Seems like it’s getting a little late for butterflies, but who knows better than them. The monarch is the only true continental migrator among the butterflies. I’m hoping that this one doesn’t stay too long. There’s another frost in the forecast for tonight. They were the only butterflies I saw all day, and it may be many months before I see another one. It’s always a little odd when the flowers and butterflies are gone, even though you know in your heart they will return. It’s all part of how we adjust to the changing seasons. Many of us like the winters in Wisconsin, but I wonder how many folks would live here if there were no spring, summer and autumn. Seems we always have something to look forward to.
I believe the little snake that I spotted at my feet was an Eastern garter snake. They are usually dark green but sometimes fade to brown to better match their surroundings. Hard to make a positive I.D. on this one. Any snake experts out there?
Milkweed pods are a common sight this year but often go unnoticed. The sparkling sunlight has turned them into beautiful works of art created by Mother Nature for us to enjoy. This time of year, the milkweed jumps out to be noticed as the season’s fruitful seeds are ready to leave the pod. If the monarchs return next summer, the milkweed will be ready for them.
Turkey vultures know that cold weather is on the way. They are gathering together so that when the time is right, they can move south together. There is one particular tower northeast of Viroqua where the vultures like to gather. The view from up there must be wonderful.
The farmers are grateful for harvest time. Silos are being filled and there is still hay to get in. The cattle are still on green pastures as we approach the third week of October. A nice long extended Autumn season is just what the farmers would like to see, and every nice day is another day to prepare for winter. Like the seasons, a farmer’s life is always evolving.