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Cori Brown: Nature signals a time to recharge

An orb weaver spider waits in his beautifully symmetrical lair for his evening dinner.
An orb weaver spider waits in his beautifully symmetrical lair for his evening dinner. (Cori Brown photo)

It’s early September and the rhythms of nature are changing. Cricket concerts now replace songbird operettas. Buzz saw locust sounds dwindle to a puny whine (I look forward to the absence of their drowning noise). Cardinal flowers and ironweed sway in the breeze while luscious roses, hydrangeas and day lilies softly lay their heads down to rest.

I have mixed feelings about autumn. The later dawn delays, the more reluctant I am to crawl out of my cocoon of covers. The household and yard chores remain the same, but my body rebels without life-giving early morning light to energize me.

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My sweet flowing maple syrup summer is moving into an inevitable slow-motion molasses fall.

While I may be slowing down, others seem to be ramping up. Orb weaver spiders are everywhere. I am thankful for their beautifully clever and efficient web designs draped like veils across the porch and nearby trees. Every day is like a page in a book as I observe what little, if sometimes anything, remains of the prior evening’s hunt.

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And then there’s the critters (this could be anything from squirrels to mice to ground hogs). The groundhogs had an outstanding year here in the yard. The hillside looks like a subterranean apartment building with all the holes they’ve dug. Pups are as big footballs while moms and dads continue to pack on the pounds in preparation for the long nap to come. I envy creatures who can put on weight and not care about their heart rate or cholesterol. No doctors lecture them about diet!

Speaking of rodents, I have a real issue on my hands right now with one that decided to get a head start on squatter rights in the house. The nights aren’t even cold enough yet to warrant such an evil act!

Whatever it is, it is driving me crazy. The loud gnawing noise inside the walls gives me nightmares, so much so that I keep a light on in our bedroom all evening long. All I can think about is being attacked by saber-toothed squirrels or a mutant two-headed mouse.

It does not help that the house has balloon frame construction. This was a common method used for homes from the 1880s to the 1930s. Our house has long, vertical 2x4s (some with the bark still on them) for the exterior walls. They literally go from the sill on top of the foundation all the way to the roof with no horizontal stops.

Imagine the joy of these raiders as they run up and down the height of the house for hours on end in the middle of the night! I have yet to figure out how to terminate their occupancy but this is not for lack of trying. So far mystery varmint one, me zero. I’m not giving up. I cherish my sanity too much.

Meanwhile back outside, I am always sad to see the songbirds go. If I keep a sharp eye out, I occasionally catch glimpses of them migrating south to their winter homes. Many insect eaters like warblers have already flown the coop. Others, including sparrows, with a more varied omnivore diet of insects and fruits and seeds, linger into November.

They are joined by birds such as phoebes and hermit thrushes who have the amazing ability to switch from insect diets to fruits and seeds. They stay late into the fall until just the right time when they catch favorable weather to warmer climes. Isn’t Mother Nature considerate to stagger our bird buddies’ departures so that people like me don’t have to suffer their absence all at once?

Ironweed (purple) and cardinal flowers (red) give a field bright pops of color.
Ironweed (purple) and cardinal flowers (red) give a field bright pops of color. (Cori Brown photo)

One creature I do enjoy seeing in the fall is the adult praying mantis. I know, I know, I don’t like insects, but these creatures are just fascinating to watch. The way they move (or as is often the case, don’t move) and then spring a karate chop coup de grace upon their unsuspecting victims is an ar tform like no other. It is literally a “blow of mercy” (coup de grace translated from French) because no animal would want to survive the aftermath.

The fact that the praying mantis has so much going for it as a hunter, including a head that turns 180 degrees (shades of The Exorcist), spiked legs (Velcro on steroids) and excellent camouflage, makes me very glad to be a human who is not on its menu. I do wonder though who would come out on top in an orb weaver spider versus praying mantis showdown.

My bet is on the mantis.

The thought of another molasses autumn is not a bad thing when you think about it. In today’s frenzied world where everyone and everything seems to run 24/7, there is something to be learned from the rhythms of nature. The idea of a purposeful slowdown is not unlike an extended battery recharge.

Enjoy the recharge. Spend time with family on a cool fall evening watching “Nature” on PBS. Look for fall wildflowers. Stroll through crunchy, colorful leaves. Watch migrating hawks whizzing through the air. Autumn may be a slower time but it is as beautiful as any other season of the year.

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Save the earth, save ourselves hint: Re-use glass bottles from grocery store purchases so that you can put your leftovers in glass, rather than disposable plastic storage containers. Look for vintage Pyrex stacking bowls and square glass containers, too. They look great and go from the refrigerator to table with ease and style. Look for more ideas at www.madesafe.org/.

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