Monday, October 18, 2010

The shape of things

Bales of meadow hay harvested from a riverside field rest among bur oaks Sunday afternoon.

The shape of things becomes more evident here daily as leaves turn and fall. Hickories flame out in the woods and oak leaves turn less colorfully then fall at rates varying with variety.  Walnuts have been pared back to fans against the sky.

If I were to worship a tree (and this is unlikely, but the term for it is dendrolatry), it would be the bur oak, among the most sculptural of Iowa's many varieties, with the swamp white oak close behind.

I figure the big walnut below is about 100 years old --- although I could be wrong about that. It is on the edge of the old railroad right-of-way, graded about a century ago, overlooking the meadow within a loop of the Chariton River recently cut and baled as hay. Its many trunks may indicate that a first attempt to grow was cut short by an axe and this incarnation sprang from sprouts shot forth by the stump.

We continue to live on the edge here, dodging  a killing frost far into October, days that can't be wasted inside.

 I headed back to Bobwhite Wednesday afternoon and at a point where a short loop circles into oak woodland, came upon four or five deer that had been napping among the trees --- alert and fully aware. They eyed me briefly, then arose and vanished, white tails high in the air, over a fence into privately-owned woods. That was a safe thing to do Wednesday, but wouldn't have been by Saturday when muzzleloader season opened.

Thursday afternoon and again on Sunday, I made the six-mile trek down to the "b" road and back along the Cinder Path --- just to see how things were progressing. As leaves fall, the heavy canopy over much of the path is dissipating, something that lifts my spirits. I travel at a rate of roughtly two miles per hour with frequent stops to look and listen, so this hike takes three hours more or less --- and generally more.

A mile in on Thursday, hundreds of blackbirds were chattering in the treetops, planning their snowbird trek south.

Farther along, the landscape of bluffs, meadows and  hills west the trail is becoming more evident as leaves drop. I'll carry binoculars next time I pass this way.

The office of the State Archaeologist has investigated four sites along the far end of this three-mile stretch and this time of year I like to eye the bluffs and sheltered hollows and speculate about where our predecessors on this land might have made their camps.

I'm told these early Iowans knew their place in the landscape far better than we do and lived more cooperatively with their surroundings and their fellow critters. Sometimes here I can quiet the monkeys chattering in my head and get a little sense of what that must have been like.

Then this guy, butt condensed into blue spandex, ears plugged into recorded sounds he can't leave behind, eyes fixed straight ahead, rockets past on a bike apparently engaged in some sort of contest with himself. It takes a while after that for the silence to return.

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