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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Autumn Walk in the Woods

Sunrise during this season occurs about the time I've had my first cup of coffee and scanned the news of the world, so then I've been lacing my boots and walking out along the eastern perimeter of the property to see the show. The pall of Earth slips away to the west and a new day begins.

One morning I sat quietly on this log and found it to be the domain of a brown mouse. It made a circuit from one end to the other every couple of minutes, pausing sometimes beside me to exchange glances.

As the grasses and forbs senesce and the leaves fall, more formerly hidden spaces reveal themselves. I'm looking for the tallest tree from which I can hang a swing. Horizontal branches at height, with a clear span below, seem to be rare but the place is so diverse I expect that I'll find the right spot one day.

It's hard to get the perspective but this trail runs along the steepest, deepest gully we have (it's 80 feet from the highest to lowest spot on the property, and there's lots of up and down). I'm calling it the Grand Traverse, or maybe Joy Stone Trail, though on Alan's map it's designated "unnamed deer trail". We'll see what sticks.

The wooded trails have been quite easy to keep groomed. Of course, they were not carved out by us but merely uncovered after years of abandonment.

The cedar grove looks especially park-like as the undergrowth dies back.

Kincaid Creek runs through the center of the farm, with tributary gullies branching to either side, one of which was dammed to create the pond next to the house.

The coyotes clearly use the trails. We have treated these predators benignly but it's become apparent that they are responsible for the plummeting numbers of rabbit, pheasant, bobwhites and other small creatures since the spring. Coyotes are considered pests and Iowa law allows that they be shot on sight at any time. We continue to struggle with ambivalent feelings about killing animals that we're not going to eat – the coyotes are very interesting to observe and especially to listen to but we're competing for some of the same resources.

We continue to find interesting artifacts, such as this artificial stone that was overturned and filled with water halfway down one of the gullies. I retrieved it and now it is a landmark. Beside it I placed a ceramic insulator from old electric fencing; it had a large nail through it by which it had been attached to a fencepost and I drove the nail into the ground. A day or two later it was gone. Ok, I thought, a raccoon or crow or other curious creature carried it away. But another day or two later it was back exactly where it was before, very strange. Someone may have had a joke at my expense but no one will 'fess up. The shorthand for all our unexplained phenomena is Baby Grave.

This is one of our artifacts, and the namesake of Big Bucket Trail.

Old fence abounds, much of it fallen and rotted, a testament to 140 years of farming here and the different ways that different generations thought best to divide and use the land.

A couple of magnificent burr oaks.

This old fellow, another of our discoveries, hasn't a name yet.

Here is a major game trail crossing Big Bucket Trail; it runs between the northeast field and the creek.

This clearing in the woods was thick with black raspberries earlier in the year but the brambles were impenetrable and birds took the fruit before we got to it.

Squeaky Tree is an old growth burr oak that has a younger tree growing through its branches. When the wind blows, the two rub together and squeak loudly.

Something knocks over the headstone fairly regularly, deer perhaps but maybe...Baby Grave.

I transplanted these cabbages too late, trying to avoid a hot spell, and while they've put on a lot of top growth it seems unlikely they'll be able to make heads before the inevitable killing frosts. Beside them are turnips, which can stay in the ground until it's too frozen to dig, and beside them a patch of asparagus, now gone to seed.

In the other garden the compost pile continues to grow, the kale is looking great, the carrots and beets and onions are resting in the ground, and the last planting of arugula, lettuce, and mustard are holding on despite now about eight days of frost into the upper 20s.

And then it's back into the house for another cup of coffee and on to the work day.