Saturday, November 14, 2009

Forest in Miniature . .

If it's a common phenomenon, I've not noticed it before. On the day after our 5-inch rain, the entire surface of the back lawn was covered with standing pine needles, like porcupine spines poking vertically from the ground. It must be the result of the right combination of hard rain, already saturated ground, and pine needles ready to fall. The 6-inch triple needles of our longleaf pinetrees (southern yellow pines, I think) fell heavy-end-first and drove themselves far enough into the wet soft soil to stay standing upright. The effect was eye-catching and eerie in a beautiful sort of way, and the photos don't do it justice. dkm

Friday, November 13, 2009

Unidentified Half-Bird . . .

It lay there for two days, further molested only by time, yellow jackets, and my own voyeurism. I was drawn to it several times in those two days, mostly because, the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced it was not the bottom half of a body mockingbird, though I don't know yet what it was.

Something there is about an unknown ID that arouses my curiosity. Is it the universal human condition that we want always to name things? A topic for another day.

I first identified our half-bird as that of the mocking variety because it was gray and had a long tail with one white side feather. Later I realized the tail only looked long at close range, relative to distant sightings, and that it was forked. Also, the yellowish under-belly feathers, the white legs, and the smallish yellow open beak on what was left of the severed head were not those of a mockingbird. Except for the white legs, the poor thing was more similar to a tufted titmouse, which seemed plausible, as we have many in this yard. They circulate in small groups, often in low bushes, and would likely attract the attentions of neighborhood cats.

But nowhere in my ID books can I find a small gray backyard bird with white legs. The mystery will go unsolved, because now, after two days of heavy rain (5in. according to our guage) and a third day of bright sun, the specimen is only a dark spot on the lawn. dkm

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Half a Mockingbird . . .

Moe found the bottom half of a mockingbird's body in the grass today, with yellow jackets feeding on it in the sun. By the time I saw it, the sun was low in the west, and just one yellow jacket crawled in and out of the carcass. That it was a mockingbird was distinguishable only by its tail and gray fluffed back feathers. White stiff legs protruded akimbo from soft yellowish underbelly feathers. No head, shoulders, or wings. The beak part of the head lay a few inches away, with what looked like eyeballs and messy flesh still attached. I'm more squeamish than I like to admit and couldn't look long. We'll never know the whole story, but a black and white neighborhood cat was stalking the yard earlier today.

I've never thought of yellow jackets as scavengers. Remembering the one that tore the flesh of a dead worm several weeks ago, I looked up their habits. Workers, generally the infertile females, forage on decaying flesh of insects and fresh carrion to feed the larvae in the nest. The larvae, in turn, produce the sugars the workers need.

I'll be curious to see how long the mockingbird remains remain in the grass. A few yellow jackets can't do away with the carcass in total, but will get what they need. I'm guessing some nocturnal predator will finish the job before morning. I'll let you know what I find tomorrow. dkm

Friday, November 6, 2009

Slant Lines . . .

Now on every breeze, long brown pine needles and leaves of varied shapes and colors take the ride of their lives to the ground, falling at different angles, depending on the directions of the breezes that carry them. Some of them swing and float down alone, because they are ready. Are they stronger or weaker than the others? Some of them wait for a breeze. Some, the greener ones, cling on, resisting the drop. They, too, will let go, but on a later day. Are they stronger or weaker?

Life remains in the parent tree trunks. Sap recedes from twig and branch to rise again for the next generation of soft lime-green beginnings. The tiny new leaves will grow to look like their predecessors, then fall, decompose, and nourish the roots of their same species tree for future generations---unless somebody rakes them away to the compost heap, there to decay and become nourishment for some other species.

It's a complicated system of genius. Nothing goes to waste, no matter where or when the leaves drop. The brilliance of it boggles my mind, but I've strayed far from the original subject of this blog entry. Maybe it's precisely the point. Somehow it always boils down to composting. dkm

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Fall of One Leaf . . .

To be brushed by a leaf in its only fall to the earth on a November day in Georgia is to be touched by the comforting truth of life and death. Or is it the appalling truth? Either way it causes me to inbreathe the breath of the universe---the same breeze the leaf rode---and pause for the moment.

To ponder the life cycle of that single leaf among the millions that will fall in this yard in this month in 2009 is to perceive the relative insignificance of my 60th birthday this week. To the earth it is commonplace as a single leaf falling. To me and the oakleaf, our respective turning 60 and falling to the earth are momentous occasions. It is as it should be, this stepping or falling into the third third of one's life, and it signals the truth of what my mother said about many things. "Thus it has ever been."

My thirty-year-old daughter, Hannah, offered an equally comforting truth when I shared with her my angst about turning sixty in the face of unaccomplished goals. "Sixty-schmixty," she said. dkm