Posted by: atowhee | October 29, 2017


“Everywhere in the north, October is gorgeous and ominous.  Red omens of the maple tree, firing wild flares into the soft early twilight, prophesy white frozen winter…noon warms up, October’s message relents, and the chrysanthemums and asters will endure—for a few weeks.  At this time of year, the vegetable gardener undergoes the fear of frost…In October everybody in the northern half of the country prepares to heat houses.  We check our furnaces, gas or oil or propane; if we heat by wood, we stack split logs…Then we hunker down.”       —October’s Omens, Donald Hall

Yesterday was a soft cottony blue.  Today is unpolished pewter.  A fine back drop for the red and yellows of the dying leaves.  There are the pinkening clusters on the huge hydrangea.  The lavender refuse to surrender and wave their narrow floret clusters on long skinny arms.  The two clematis have surprised us with end of year blooms of a deeper blue than the sky has shown since last May.  While working in dirt and leaf litter you could feel the dampness.  Looking against a dark background, say a tree trunk, the tiny droplets could be seen floating earthward.  The wet was not heavy enough to be called mist.

At one point I heard a soft rhythm, like somebody drumming fingers gently on a pool table top.  I looked up into the nearby dawn redwoods.  There on a trunk about twenty feet up was a Red-breasted Sapsucker drilling in the soft bark.  Many of his sap wells from last year are still visible on our trio of these primitive trees from the other side of the planet. They were first discovered seventy years ago in some remote valley of China.  When dawn redwoods were planted here in the late 1960s they were a faddish exotic for landscaping.  They drop their millions of tiny needles in November after each has turned buttery yellow.  It is the only time of the year the gardener interacts with the trees except to trim off the shaded lower limbs that die as the trees continue to reach toward heaven as long as they live.rbs upp there2rbs up there

We did some late season gardening this morning.  Moved some plants, weeded a small patch that was to receive some winter-tough evergreen ground cover.  Compost turned into the soil and the newcomers were placed and watered.  Then we settled down to a little lazy birding.  My chair was about fifteen feet from the nearest platform and suet hanger.  The dog was pleased that she had a partner in her unending game of tug-of-toy.

The House Sparrows were constantly calling unseen from the neighbor’s shrubbery, “Twitt, twit.”  Each male House Sparrow opens a twitter account as soon as he learns to speak.  And he continues to use it properly and responsibly, unlike some bird-brains you could name.

The juncos and starlings are about but leery, the dog, maybe the human are too close for safety.  Yet the Red-breasted Nuthatch is busy.  Cache as cache can, he says.  Every minute or two he makes another foray to one of two platforms or a hanging suet cylinder.  He has no discernible pattern of where he finds his next morsel.  His method of selection is far too recondite for my mammalian senses.  At one point he perches on the end of a platform with hundreds of cracked sunflower seeds and he proceeds to reject at least four of them before finding one that suits?  What is he thinking?  What weighs in a nuthatch’s deliberations about winter provender?rbn cacherbn cache2

It has been a morning of the red-breasted, the redwoods.
The chickadees, first Black-capped, then Chestnut-backed.  They do not arrive together.  They, too, recognize what we call the species perchcbc perch


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