An excerpt from Ellie's new book, Seen from the Road
Ellie S. Thomas
2020 by Ellie S. Thomas
August 1 and hot again..we spent the day at the lake where it was blissfully cool. The flowers are all in bloom and little birds are lively there. A bit too lively, really because they decorated D's shirt so he had to go change. We left, reluctantly, at 4 p.m.
I found some elecampane in bloom this morning and picked one blossom. At first, I'd thought it was jerusalem artichoke but a study of the book showed my mistake. I picked a few more bluebells and something we always called wireweed but which I suspect is a member of the spirea family.
The mower mowed with a vengeance. He has cleared away some eight feet, maybe ten, from the tarvia and flattened birdsfoot trefoil, bedstraw, daisies, chicory, and many grasses. Who would be walking out that far? Who'd drive out there? Why does all America have to be barbered and manicured so that children never see how things look in the natural state. They will think that is how all the countryside is supposed to look.
The Canada geese are coming back into the pastures now that the hay has been cut. Do they feel more secure now that they can see further?
The wet weather has brought another hatching of mosquitoes and they are becoming a pest. The poor bees act like they are starving to death and the hummingbirds come in between showers and dart from blossom to blossom among the bee-balm.
There's a rutilant orb exerting pressure from above and a drying wind like a Santa Ana. Still about 79º. A big 'dozer has been left by the creek for some reason. Now, what can they be up to? One fears to ask. We got more blueberries today and I photographed the squirrels chewing up my birdfeeders.
The day started out with sun and we drove into the mountains. I walked through the fields and picked a handful of blueberries and looked for sweet grass. The apples are increasing their dimensions and turning red. Walking over the lawns and through my father's fields brings on a fit of nostalgia. I see the spots where my brothers and I used to play, the big stones we used to climb. Oh, time is cruel, it really is-
The hummingbirds were darting about the feeders, two and three at a time. The aggressive little one was still there, still refusing to share the food, darting at any that approached. He even took on a bee but the bee refused to be intimidated.
About mid-afternoon, it began to rain and we started home. We noted that the giant alliums have began to turn blue and call the bees. I picked some leaves off the lovage and bee-balm to dry for herb tea and hung some yarrow and smart weed for coughs this winter.
I don't hear the yellow throat any more but the goldfinches are coming into their own and sing from the top of the weeds outside our window each morning. My transparencies of the yellow throat didn't come out well because my zoom isn't powerful enough.
The sun pounded down all day long like in Camus' The Stranger. Fortunately we had a good breeze but it was still pretty humid and uncomfortable. We are getting fresh tomatoes now, so-o good.
The squirrel came through our screen over the cellar window, an $8.00 repair job.
I've been noticing a thin crescent new moon. Only the outer edge of the right hand side showed. It traveled from the southeast in a low arc to the northwest. I first noted it last Thursday night low over the neighbor's house. By tonight at 8:45 p.m. it is gibbous already and still only half-way up in the western sky about 2/3rd of the way between horizon and zenith.
I walked alone today because the continued humidity has my companion lame. It threatens to continue thus for some time, too. I gathered some specimens of bluebell, steeple bush, a long, silky grass, a seed-bearing branch of ash, a sprig of black currant and one of pin cherry. I also found a small dark brown butterfly and a black swallowtail. The latter will have to be relaxed and spread. (I no longer soak them but use damp sand- much better.)
The birds are calling and the crows are noisy. That reminds me, I haven't seen the one with the broken wing lately. Has he fallen prey to a predator?
We started out with a half-hearted sun and by afternoon, the rain came again. July was a miserable month as far as our arthritis was concerned, will August be different? The web worms are destroying acres of pine trees and the DEC plans to allow Nature to run its course.
It's interesting how things come around full circle. DOT is replacing the unsafe bridges in the state with wood? Yep, wood. And people are going back to burning wood, even industries are storing wood chips for future use.
There are all the signs of an early fall. The goldenrod is hip high, not quite yellow but getting there. The trees are turning noticeably, the apples are reddening and the grape vines are loaded with grapes, green, of course. We've had a thin crescent moon nights when it could be seen. I pray we have a lovely fall, we deserve it after such a lousy summer. The bugs don't give up, I killed another mosquito on the porch today. But we are finally beginning to see more butterflies. I found two more for my collection yesterday, a black swallowtail and a tiny brown one, as yet unidentified.
It is overcast and still looks like rain, it even sprinkled on us when we went out but I just can't take it seriously any more. It is very hard on the birds and animals, we've tried to keep water outside but it evaporates as fast as we put it out. It was 84º., a lower temperature but the humidity stays so high.
The 'little' farmer has had the creek dozed out! Why have they disturbed this tiny rivulet? Surely it cannot be of benefit to anyone for damming or changing it's meagre course and think of the damage they're doing! One wonders why farmers can't leave these tiny trickles, these small areas of wetlands alone. Why must everything be smoothed over? Before long we'll be like Florida where the road system has been extended 4 1/2 miles a day for the last 50 years!
There's some water left and the herons are gorging and gurgling on the few diehard frogs. I sat in the backhoe trying to photograph them and sat underneath some of the bushes but they are just too wary. I eye the destruction, appalled! Where will our rails go? What will happen to the coots? The woodcocks? Oh, it is awful!
Last night we had a brown rabbit out back under the windows. He sat and munched the fine growth of herbage but the bugs seemed to be driving him crazy. He flicked his long ears continuously but they wouldn't leave him alone.
We went to sleep to the sound of rain hitting the windows. Although we miss the warmth of the sun, this cool weather can't be beat for sleeping.
The cool is welcome but we got a minimum of rain. Yet, the ground is so water-logged that the ants have taken to the trees. If you walk underneath, the insects drop on your head. And they are in the sweet cucumber vines, wandering up and down, sometimes carrying an egg, sometimes not. It amuses me to think of those who have been purchasing ant farms and we have so many for free! I also noted a hard shell bug, one with a shield-shaped back. They are all looking for escape.
We drove into the mountains and it turned off nice although the breeze stayed quite cool. The leaves are noticeably turning color as they climb the mountainside. We saw two beautiful deer and they scarcely seemed to notice us. They'll notice shortly, or die! We drove right up to them and I snapped a half dozen pictures but they continued to browse. I walked the streets of Saranac and did a rather large circuit but walking in town is not the same as doing the country roads.
Before the day was over, it had reached the low 70s. The moon is half full these nights and it is great for sleeping. I notice how our appetites have returned with the cooler weather.
We picked the first ripe tomatoes and summer squash today, also picking blueberries- our freezer is getting filled and our mouths are purply, stained from the delicious juices. That is one thing the northeast can brag about, it's blueberries are unexcelled. We look forwards towards blueberry picking each fall and many a housewife has furnished her home with the little extras from 'blueberry money'...and it doesn't come easy, I know from experience.
We've had a very satisfactory day. I did not get my walk in and must resume it tomorrow. The birds seemed happy to be enjoying the good weather and they whistled in the thicket outside my window. The chickadees are coming back out of the depths of the woods again. They were busily playing games in the poplars this afternoon. The crows were cawing and making noise.
The ants are still crawling through the vines. Their paths seem aimless but perhaps they know what they are about. The bees act very happy with the giant allium blossoms. They do seem to love that big thistle...and the hummers are coming for the bee-balm. I refilled the little feeder today just in case they run out.
We have a rather large wasp's nest growing underneath the eaves of the house. E- wants to knock it down but I point out how many insects they destroy. We have entirely too many mosquitoes; so sic 'em.
The sun is coming up and it looks like a nice day. Housewives are busy making pickles and freezing vegetables. The primroses are past their peak now, the goldfinches appear to be nesting, and I photographed one out back on a bull thistle. The thistles are quite beautiful right now. They are tall and have a lovely deep lavender blossom; they are dedicated to St. Barnabas.
It has been a sunny, splendid day. I got my morning walk in without comment. The farmer has hayed off one half of his first pasture and there are over 75 Canada geese resting across the creek. Crows are strutting on the cut hay and cawing fiercely. The water is very low in the channel and though scummy looking, is filled with minnows,
The rough fruited cinquefoil is gone now and the jewelweed is going to seed. The little pods already snap when squeezed. And there are tall, golden, rayed flowers in thick clusters now. When they go to seed, they explode in white fuzz-balls. I must look them up and see what they are. There is no time to lose these days as it is growing darker much earlier now.
Thing 3 brought us some zucchini out of her garden, it is plentiful this year. Her birthday is approaching and I know just what I shall get for her. She is a person who loves her home and crafts and all sorts of folk art and I have just the thing in mind. We have found an old pitcher-pump for the top of her well. I know she's been wanting one and they are hard to find! It is also the birthday of my favorite nephew and my favorite son-in-law, (I have three favorite sons-in-law,) and he shall be the problem!
We want to pick more wild berries for the freezer soon. The goldenrod is blossoming and the bull thistles are going to seed. The monarchs are perched on the milkweed, storing up energy for their long flights to California, or Mexico, I guess. They must be chionophobes, too.
I noticed when we were walking that there is some St. John's Wort along the pasture fence; it's a wonder the farmer didn't pull it up because it is poisonous to cattle. Maybe he didn't recognize it.
We've had a simply splendid day, sunny and lovely. I walked and made a survey of the farms, the fields, and wetlands in all their loveliness. As I walk there is an irrestible desire to draw long breaths and relax completely. I am rather worried about the presence of a big dozer which they brought close and parked last week. I think they may just plan to dredge the creek out a bit because the dry weather has nearly obliterated it. I can't imagine what else they could be planning to do. Sad to say, they have left the dredgings already done piled up in a long, high, unlovely heap and it will take forever to cover over with green. I was given to understand this was a temporary situation but no one's been back to level it off. The new channel is raw looking and the birds wander along the piles looking forlorn and lost. The water is roily, devoid of life for now. There are few herons, we've seen one muskrat, no rails, few ducks and geese. What a pity!
I went back to check on the St. John's Wort and make sure I wasn't mistaken but it was as Edwin Way Teale described it, 'a yellow herb, many-branched and stiff stemmed with two raised lines along each stem, and the small leaves with oil glands, it's a fairly pretty weed, each shiny yellow petal decorated with tiny black dots.'
It began to rain by afternoon and drenched the patrons at the fair. 69º by 4 p.m. We purchased vegetables from the Amish and now I am making zucchini relish and enjoying blackberries.
It continued to rain during the night with a violence that sounded like a fire hose turned loose on the roof. The morning was overcast and sullen looking.
The wetlands are pretty desolate now; the red wings are gone and the fields are pretty well mowed off, leaving the larks and bob o'links homeless. The sweet cucumber vines are setting fruit and the moon is at the gibbous stage.
We walked over the back yard just relishing things and I noted what appeared to be a large glob of bird droppings on the creamy siding. Closer inspection revealed a most unusual moth. It was almost as large as a silver dollar with furry, white and brown scales. Even its antennae were furry and covered with white down. I tried to capture it but it was too clever for me. I didn't dare grab for fear of mashing it, so it got away.
I'm getting tired of cleaning berries. I'd rather watch the pileated woodpeckers. They excavated 3" splinters over 1/2" wide from the trees out back. They come, two or three at a time and we can see the chips flying from the living room windows.
We took a drive through the mountains into ever increasing signs of fall. Early apples are beginning to fall already and the leaves are turning russet and gold. It's turned balmy and warm, almost too-warm but the nights are going down into the 40s now. It is dark at 8:30 p.m. Our domestic grape vine has grapes as large as my thimble and those on the wild vines are pea-sized, but still green so far.
The woodcock's dancing spot is grown over now at the wetlands and is knee high in Queen Anne's Lace, daisies, and Hypochaeris radicata, or cat's ears. The latter looks like a tall dandelion but it grows atop a very tall stem with long, lance-like leaves, clasping and only slightly dentate. When the blossoms are done, they explode in white furry clusters. The birds seem to like it well. My allergies are reacting to all the fluff that passes on each air current.
We went for a brief and leisurely saunter, a word Anne LaBastille says is from the Middle Ages when people walked to the Holy Land (Sainte Terre); however, we didn't saunter far because the rain became too heavy for walking. We went up home and it was 75º. Mother was busy putting something delectable into glass jars and I protested over her working so hard, especially when she no longer has to but that inbred horror of waste, you know. The garden is producing well for some reason. I am making blackberry jam and eating new carrots.
The geese watched me with a wary eye this afternoon but didn't move. The young calves watched me hopefully, looking for a bit of affection, I guess.
The blueberries are ripening fast behind Dad's barn and North Country residents have a fierce, blue-mouthed appearance that shows what they've been eating.
The trucks are going by with huge loads of pulp wood and other, smaller trucks are carrying past loads of hay bales to augment the winter's needs. Farmers are mowing off as quickly as they can and I notice a new trend, as the hay is rolled into the huge balls, some are now enclosing it in white plastic. Won't it overheat, or sour, that way rather than keep dry?
Taking a morning walk is a beautiful way to begin the day, in our case after a hectic weekend. The air has an opalescent quality that you could cut with a knife, reminiscent of Turner-
Someone in the neighborhood is hammering and there's the swishy sound of tires on a still-wet highway. I'm afraid fall is coming early. A mourning dove greets the sun from a telephone wire; when it flies off, chittering like a chipmunk, its lovely spade-shaped tail becomes a white-edged fan.
There are cuprous piles of soil left by highway crews and slugs of dog dung where the kennel owners have walked their charges. A dozen Canada geese are just rousing in the fields beyond and a monarch butterfly swoops and glides gracefully over the road. There are no signs of the sweet bob o'links that serenaded us along our way throughout the spring and the colors of the landscape are changing.
The loosestrife (Lythrium Salicaria) that was a blaze of Royal Purple such a short time ago is dulled by large portions of the stalk that have gone to seed. The rushes stand like ranks of soldiers, brown furry shakos held high and tall blue-green bayonets glint in the sunshine.
The creek, that all but dried up in this summer's drought, has been dredged out further by a backhoe, ruining the habitat for the rails and lovely blue herons that we observed all spring. They've dug it down so the banks are now three to four foot high and precipitous. There are a few isolated puddles here and there along the bottom and no longer signs of the jumping young tadpoles-turned-froglets that brought the herons.
The swooping, curvetting barn and tree swallows have thinned to a lonely one, or two, and except for a few goldfinches and yellow sulphur butterflies, there is little life to be seen. It is still 83º at 6 p.m. and sunny.
The jays are raucous overhead. Everything seems to be preparing for an early fall. There are few birds left to be seen now and flowers are half-seeded groundsels, loosestrife rapidly losing its splendor, and the brown of sedges and cat tails.
There are Monarchs twenty feet in the air, floating about on the currents. Two are circling in a colorful dance; I don't know if they are mating, playing, or fighting.
The air is warm and sticky; it will be a humid day. I have to watch where I step. Geese have apparently been on the highway and their droppings look like squeezings from a tube of green paint. They've left pile after pile, some a good half inch in diameter.
Now and again someone whizzes past on their way to work and I cautiously step off the pavement. Caution is the operative word because workcrews have left a good 8-12 inch drop off after laying the tarvia. A good place to injure yourself, break an ankle. After dark we were treated to a night of brilliant meteor showers, about one per minute for hours-
The showers of falling stars continues and the moon has been spectacular. I want to read Apple Tree Lean Down (Mary E. Pearce,) but am torn between the marvelous book and the marvelous sky show. Finally, the book won and I went in to wash up for bed. My grandson warns everyone, 'See Grandma early because she begins washing her face at eight o'clock.'
The road crew has been back filling in the shoulders of the road where there'd been such a drop off. The herbage was already growing back through the disturbed soil, looking like fresh, green stalks of swisschard. Slaughtered butterflies lay along the roadside; I picked one up and put it in my pocket for my collection but lost it on the way home; a pretty lemony one, too. Later we saw another- a lemon butterfly on a golden flower in the yellow sunlight.
We walked past the creek, a sad thing now dredged out and devoid of life. Past the third farm where three horses are feeding; one bay and two roans (?), sorrels(?). They picked up their silky ears and greeted us with explosive exhalations from their nostrils. We met them at the fence and I stroked the muzzle of the first; the second was prepared to nibble and displayed long, yellow teeth, all 40 of them. I left him rather abruptly.
By late afternoon, the temperature stood at 88º, with almost 50% humidity. We took a 70 mile ride into the mountains to the south and found the leaves beginning to change color already. The cat tails and rushes stand over my head. Electrical storms are predicted and they may flatten some of these tall flowers and sedges.
Apples are rolling from the trees by the wayside and the sky looks like polished aluminum. It is easy to see that the birds now are different, both in species and behaviour, from just a few weeks ago. The beautiful little kestrels are lined up every couple yards on the top wires, watching for a meal. The eastern kingbirds are also perch four, or five to a group. Earlier on, they were a solitary bird. Even the tones of the fields are changing. The grain heads are making large greyish-purple patches, and the goldenrod is bronze.
As I walk closer to the farms, huge barn flies assail me and are quite persistent. The midges are mean little things these days, also. There are large clumps of bull thistles in blossom, very pretty; there is more elecampine than I'd realized and the birdsfoot trefoil is still good.
I noted one patch of a miniature flower sprawled alongside the road, just one clump with tiny incipient blossoms, looking like tiny, purply lipsticks. I found one a day later with a bud opening up and I brought it home and photographed it and then pressed it. It is a lovely little thing. It opened out to five petals with yellow stigmas.
There was a freshening breeze this morning...the geese were still down, none appearing awake or on guard. Flocks of blackbirds wheeled into the sky on their path to some new desecration; they are the bane of farmers.
Goldfinches preceded me down the highway. They uttered their sweet, wheezing song and their black wings carried them from seed head to seed head. Flocks of barn swallows twittered busily on the overhead wires for all the world like gossiping housewives. I wondered what they were saying?
The wetlands are a Byzantine tapestry; olive, gold, bottle-green, purple, and umber. The 'dozer has slid huge rockpiles down on to the rushes that lay like dead soldiers. What will the rails and herons think of such destruction? I know what I think of it!
A muskrat is swimming up and down on his/her activities.. (S)he tries to make it up the bank but is met at the top by an angry bird, some miniscule creature that pecks at the muskrat peevishly and the 'rat falls back with a splash. He swims a couple feet towards me and doggedly tries to climb up again. Again the bird meets him head-on and he's back in the water. He is persistent and this third time, the bank collapses with him. He will not give up and he makes it to the top a little further along.
I see a furry patch disturbing the high grasses and soon he comes back into view with a huge mouthful of weeds. They trail out to the side like a big, green moustache. He jumps back into the water and swims off with his booty.
It's really a rather uncomfortable day despite last evening's shower. The incessant song of crickets makes our ears ring as we tread the freshly paved highway. The roadcrews have marred their own work already with huge gouges and scratches from the heavy machinery.
The raucous jays are quarreling, probably driving the blackbirds away. The meadows glow with patches of white: groundsels turning white with seed, Queen Anne's Lace turning to clutches of bird's nests, and Baby's Breath also making seed.
The land seems drained of color since the latest electrical storm and the tones are somber. The brown spires of sourdock, browning, dying loosestrife, and umber heads of cat tails and sedges mix with the Aztec Gold of goldenrod, goldfinch, and butterfly. The monarchs and swallowtails are a pretty accent.
We walked beneath a high and hazy sky; indistinct clouds were piled in an ominous formation- a calf called plaintively and a woman came along emptying her dog. The air was bracing and heady; life can be grand.
It is the time of fruiting. The trees are drooping with globes of red and gold. The light green grapes are turning blue on the vine, the woodbine is turning red and it is studded with bluish purple berries, cranberry bushes are laden and the birds are watching the mulberries as they grow dark. Everything is maturing and providing for another generation.
A watery sun sends weak rays to the darkening fields. A hurricaine is on its way north and living critters seem to sense it. There is a noticeable lack of birds and insects today and there wasn't a butterfly to accompany us on our walk. A few swallows are flying low; we are told this is a weather indicator, that small insects fly high on clear days, so when swallows fly low, it means a change is coming. The geese are late rising this morning; it's a day when there's no sense in hurrying! Perhaps I'll return to the house and immerse myself in Kuki Gallman's I Dreamed Of Africa. Very nice-
As the sun climbs, crows clear their throats and gurgle. Their coarse jeers carry from the treetops across the highway. Beneath the window, a little bird whispers an insistent 'sweet, sweet'. It is neither musical, nor sweet, more a mechanical rasping. A jay has been alerted and adds his noisy squawk to the waking sounds of the day.
The air has a fresh 'cleared' odor to it as though it had been processed during the night, the impurities removed for today's use. Last night the moon was half-way towards full, a waxing moon, and the temperature dropped sharply before morning. Now, the excessive condensation reveals large patches of spider's webs in the shadowed areas for all the world like big, lacy doilies spread out to dry.
Two farmers from adjoining farms were out in the same meadow astride their ponderous great machines. The vehicles lurched back and forth belching blue smoke and sending up sprays of dirt, doing something; jousting for all I know. A plane passed overhead, the sound of the engines lagging along behind from another quadrant of the sky like trailing smoke. Thus two of mankind's modern inventions mar the day.
The next morning, the rain changed our plans and we drove through showers until we got up into the mountains. It was almost uncomfortably cool after so many 85-90º days but Mother had a low fire going in the old kitchen range and it felt very welcome. There is always the cheerful odor of breads, or something good cooking. If I could bottle the essence of home, it would make me a millionaire.
We stopped for coffee enroute and it cleared off; then when we started up again, the shadows left the mountaintops and chased the sun over the fields and meadows. We'd drive beneath huge bruised-looking clouds and it would be cool but before we'd get a jacket on, the sun would come out and we'd perspire. The apples were falling in golden piles and the fireweed glowed in the ditches. The lakes are ultramarine with reflections of the sullen clouds and in the shadows of the porches, the hummingbirds were busy at the feeders, building up energy for their coming journey. By afternoon, it was 76º.
The sun climbed and it highlighted one half of the highway while the second half remained a darker color and was covered with leaves; oak, beech, and maple. Everything was drenched and the sun turned the drops on the grasses to diamonds, sparkling and pristine.
There were hundreds of little frogs squashed all over the highway and opportunistic crows took advantage of the bonanza, after all, frog's legs may be $2.69 a pound! Why do frogs invariably die bottomside up? I can't recall seeing one dead dorsal side up..they usually lie looking up at the sky, little forelegs in a beseeching position as if they'd been granted one last prayer. The freshly laid highway is pitted and cross-hatched by farm machinery and in the ditches, the long grasses are lopped over in windrows as though combed by a careless stylist.
Goldfinches bobbed along beside us and a big, blue heron cruised overhead, his long, snaky neck retracted for better flying. They are a curious bird, very wary and ungainly looking. It's surprising how graceful they become once they are airbourne.
We are at full moon now- The eastern sky showed great promise today with huge, fleecy cumulus clouds riding high in a baby-blue sky; the western half didn't look nearly as promising and that's where our weather comes from. This is the first time since the summer's drought that I've seen the earth look moist. There's a huge pile of soil around the corner and it resembles a heap of coffee grounds. The cattle have been moved to a back pasture and the near fields look denuded of life; as for the wetlands and creek, the less said the better. It's been raped, that's about the kindest thing one can say about it. Such devastation for no good reason...makes one's blood boil!
A flock of maybe fifty Canada geese occupy the mid-field. They act more guarded now than they did a few weeks earlier. Poor things, if they only knew! Their numbers have increased to the point that the DEC is declaring another hunt on them shortly.
A small muskrat is paddling back and forth in the creek and he must have heard or seen us because he immediately disappeared. He is the first sign of returning life to our ravaged and mutilated wetlands. Across the road, the channel is completely dry and the highway department dumped a load of large rocks into it, smashing down the loosestrife and cat tails where the rails had their nests. Will it ever be the same again?
As we plod along, ten Canada geese flop past overhead. Their loud honks sound very like a dog barking. They go down and join the others. The treetops are filled with blackbirds, sparrows, and a woodpecker by the sound. They know where to seek shelter and safety. They'd better stay there, too, because there's a big hawk circling overhead.
There are more little frogs flattened on the road but the butterflies can't be dried out yet this morning. There is a small white moth trying its wings but they don't seem to work very well just yet. Moths and butterflies are like airplanes- they must rev their motors; in their cases, flap their wings until they get warmed up enough to fly.
Last night's clear skies and full moon mandated low temperatures before dawn and it was only 48º at seven a.m. The sun was preceeded by a few weak rays peeping over the horizon. There was no birdsong, no animal life in sight but the bees were industriously buzzing the flowers. The air was stagnant and motionless except for vagrant breezes that caught in the tallest trees. Where the fields were uncut, there was a carpet of bronze.
As we passed the first farm, I counted 13 pieces of machinery at the right of the house and two mammoth pieces on the left. There was a tractor on the front lawn, one on the side lawn, and one in the lean-to against the barn. Long rows of split wood was piled at right angles to the driveway and the garden space was in front of that. Behind was a milk house and a leaning old shed where two bawling calves were awaiting fall martyrdom. They were in a tiny corral made of barbed wire. The poor farmwife didn't stand a chance. There were buckets upended on every third or fourth fencepost. Tarps were carelessly thrown over the exhaust stacks of tractors and other mechanized machinery, held in place by still more buckets. And all this conglomeration of things but a few steps removed from the backdoor, (the front door is obviously never used as is common on so many farms).
The old farm dog walked among the 50-75 Canada geese that were sheltering in the nearest field. He ignored them and they didn't appear alarmed to see him so close. He peered into his master's face before deciding what his attitude should be towards us.
We started the day off with bluejays and crickets. The sky had an undetermined look but then a few sickly rays of sunshine emerged. It's supposed to be hot and sticky again. As we walked, the feeble sun tried to penetrate the opaque light that overlay the meadow. There was a nice westerly breeze; fortunate for us because it would've been uncomfortably hot otherwise. All was quiet creekside. The sedges are turning rusty on the top, adding a new color to a fall landscape. The geese have left the near field and are spread out in the pasture at the left of the farm. The tractor is missing from the front lawn; someone has plans for the day.
The strange luminous light continued throughout the day. In mid-afternoon, it was as if everything was seen through cheesecloth, or a sheer curtain. I think it's going to rain. And at seven thirty, it's dusk again. Fall brings on nostalgic daydreams of riding the haywagons up home and watching my mother string apples to dry on the clotheslines. Grandma would be busily making her barrel of saurkraut and Grandpa would be picking her herbs so she could dry them, usually sage to mix with the fall meat, or he'd get turkey weed and smartweed for winter medicines.
The heat continued, many days already in the 70s at breakfast time but the breeze was refreshing. It swirled the poplars around, turning the little leaves inside out and making a lovely susurration.
The geese grouped together close to the highway, a hundred or more. They eyed me suspiciously and flapped their wings but they don't flush. I plodded past down along the marshes. The Queen Anne's Lace and chicory share the highway shoulders with small imitation dandelions called cat's ears. The broad meadows shade from green to brown where the sedges begin to bring rusty accents that turn to umber, then ochre where cat tails are exploding.
A heron flushed up almost beside me, a skinny young thing and it flew a few rods to perch on a pile of soil that was excavated from the creek. It glared about and I stepped behind some bushes. It darted its head cautiously from side to side and after five, or six minutes, it became airborne and flapped back to the creek but not anywhere near me.
I noticed that someone had thrown apple peelings and the core beside the road. The yellow jackets were going mad over it. I watched them digging out the juices until a motion in my peripheral vision caught my attention. An ant, and a rather small one of the species at that, was dragging away a fallen comrade. The corpse was a completely flattened and dessicated little body but he continued the long journey, pulling and shoving up hill and down dale as though he was dragging the national treasure. He continued to drag his dead along a journey that would have been epic for a human given a proportionate situation and the last I saw, he was still going. Such devotion is seldom encountered. Would anyone do that for me?
The sun was like a nasty red boil, an abscess, when I tried to get a glimpse of it. The rays were a malignant red-orange boding no good for the rest of the day. Yesterday the heat was insupportable and it scarcely cooled off during the night. Today is worse.
The heat, or humidity, or a combination of the two brings out new hatchings of insects. The variety is stupendous and some are amazingly beautiful. There was a beetle perched on a rock by the well. It had a slender tapering body that gleamed a brilliant emerald green that turned to gold when the light changed. After it flew off a wee fly lit on my arm and its tiny body shone golden, it had dainty, gossamer wings. The body wasn't much thicker than buttonhole thread. After that, I spotted four distinctly different dragon flies. One, a huge creature, was perched on the stalk of a hollyhock. It had a length and wingspan of several inches and the head was the size of a large wooden bead, such as one sees on playpens or cribs. It was a light, bright green. The next was a milky, opalescent color and it was equal in size to the first but the third was the ordinary, blue-green usually seen. The last one was smaller and lighter with a blood red body. They are all interesting and fascinating to observe.
Still, its been an absolutely splendid day. The ghost moon shone in the sky with a crescent bite taken out of the lower edge. It's on the wane now. There's was a haze over the meadows and the waters which is rapidly dissipating and the heat is increasing rapidly. The sumac berries turned red sometime ago and the leaves are following suit and in the woods, wild grapes hang in purple clusters.
Country people have a thought to their winter's wood and cord after cord is piled within easy reach, drying in the hot breezes. Vegetable stands line many of the roads; corn is the principal item just now but many offer cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini, too. These furnish Post-Impressionistic still lifes in their little booths or tipped up in a basket. The wasps and yellow jackets hang close by, competing for any stray drops that ooze from the harvest. Some farmers add 'mums and glads' to the display and the colors are jubilant. And the crickets are making our ears ring.
Monday the temperature is supposed to drop into the 30s. It is very difficult for the body to adjust to such dramatic changes. The sky is layered with grey and lavender clouds that look cold and heavy. There are scraps of leaves and branches torn loose by the winds late yesterday. There were bad storms in the surrounding areas, too.
'They' have been busy desecrating our wetlands again. We were dismayed to see another behemoth parked in the meadow gloating over its past work and anticipating more to come. We can't understand how anyone can alter the wetlands and wildlife habitat to such an extent. Where is the DEC?
There has been a wide swath mowed right across the channel and concentric paths made along the edges. Everything is altered absolutely. There will be no more rail nests, nesting ducks, geese, or coots...no more herons. And of course, the beaver and muskrat are wiped out. If this wholesale destruction was to discourage them, it's too much like burning the house down to make toast.
The sun was brilliant and it was 38º at 8 a.m., 65º at 1 p.m., and 70º at 4 p.m. There was the half of a ghost moon in the afternoon sky. I sat in a lawn chair and observed a goldfinch flitting from seed head to thistle. They wheeze their way along, the bright colors competing with the sun itself. The chickadees are emerging from the deep woods and feasting on the wild grapes and apples seeds. Even the jays are approaching nearer these days, watching the sweet cucumber vines for the luscious big, black seeds.
I'm getting a second flowering from one of my dwarf sunflowers. Usually there's one large blossom comes at the very top of the stalk but this one has blossomed and the head hangs over, darkening with seed but in the axil between the stalk and leaf, 3 small yellow blossoms have formed and they look like daisy petals.
I found a beetle that was the color of bronze on one flower stalk. His back was shaped like a shield and there was the bas relief of a perfect 'y' on it. I also found a peculiar green caterpillar curled up like a striped snake on a sweet basil leaf. I've brought him inside and he is in a plastic case. He left the leaf and went over to a corner where he left 3 rather large deposits of black dung, then he returned to his leaf. He is fairly light green with darker spirals about him and is over an inch long. He looks more like a miniature snake than a caterpillar or worm. I want to see what he will develop into. There is another inhabitant rolled up in a gauze mess on an oak leaf. It has hooked 2 leaves together and made a cottony shroud between them.
And, there's been more clearing of the wetlands over the holidays. They have a strangely familiar look, like a man who's shaved off his mustache. There wasn't a Canada goose in sight; the shoot-out on Saturday has driven them into hiding. There was one lone heron at the creek, a a young one, too foolish to be wary. He waited until the last minute when we were almost upon him, then flapped forlornly away, his long legs dangling.
The big trees along the road were peopled with blackbirds. They whistled obscenely and played musical chairs above our heads. The cattle have moved up close to the road; in fact, two were about to cross it but I scolded them back where they belong. Apparently the farmer feels the old fence, now long gone, so conditioned them into not crossing that they will think it is still there.
There's no sign of activity at farm 1 now, not even a tractor in sight. The fields and woods rang with the stridulations of insects as if someone were shaking a jar of bells. After the low temperatures of the past few nights, the leaves were beginning to spiral down. There wasn't a cloud in the afternoon sky but a smart breeze turned the leaves upside down and set the trees to swaying, a 5, or 6 on the Beaufort Scale.
We'd scarcely had a fly inside all summer long but now they are beginning to cling and it's difficult to get in without bringing at least one along.
This is one of the first times this season that I have awakened to the sound of raindrops hitting the big hollyhock leaves outside the screen. We walked through the sleepy neighborhood and the houses were quiet and shuttered, there was little activity and it was tranquil except for the occasional dog, or sound of a vehicle starting up to carry a worker off. It was difficult, from our perspective, to believe that somewhere tanks and cannons were on the move and people living and moving in synchrony with the bombardment of guns.
Geese were going over; I couldn't see them in the overcast but perhaps they're recovering from their awful fright? Or is instinct more powerful than caution and will it bring them back to the same disastrous spot? By mid-morning the meagre rain finished and our neighbor was out walking. It must be some kind of social commentary but we've lived in this neighborhood for six years and really don't know anyone up or down this road. We have a waving acquaintance with those next door and the one four doors away who once was a co-worker but, no, we really have formed no alliances, no friendships. Most wouldn't recognize us across a living room and have no desire to get to know us, or anyone else nearby either.
This excerpt from Ellie's new book, Seen from the Road is one of our Preservation Foundation paperbacks that we are proud to publish. It's priced at a modest $6.50 and just reading it will help cool your brow and warm your heart. You can read another sample and buy it at Amazon.
Ellie's Story List and Biography