2011 Sampler of Nature’s Treasures

With only three days left of 2011, I decided to look back through my Nature Narrative postings. The articles and photos depict many treasures of nature that were discovered throughout the year. I hope you will enjoy this sampler from 2011′s Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, and I wish you a Happy New Year filled with nature’s treasures.

Winter

On this frigid February 1st, the outdoor thermometer reads -9 degrees F. The backyard pond is frozen except for a three-foot circle of open water surrounding our circular pond heater. Overnight, a mix of light snow and sleet sprinkled the icy pond, creating a surface like frosted glass.

The smooth snow covering the front and backyard remains untracked all day. The usually active mammals – rabbits, squirrels, fox, deer and occasional bobcats – are nowhere to be seen. The only wildlife visible on this below zero day are birds, their feathers fluffed to trap extra air for insulation.

Cedar Waxwing photo by Winston Walker

Five American Robins fly to the pond in late morning, gathering around the small circle of water. After dipping their beaks into the water, they tilt their heads back to swallow. Soon, they are joined by two Cedar Waxwings, elegant winter visitors to our neighborhood. I note their sleek, gray feathers and back-swept crest. The Waxwings look like they are wearing a black mask and a cape hemmed in red, black and yellow threads.

This brief glimpse of winter’s Cedar Waxwings reminds me of Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”

Spring

Late this afternoon I took a short walk through our neighborhood park. Except for the sound of the brisk March wind, it was very quiet. As I headed south into the stiff breeze, I zipped up my hooded jacket and cinched the hood tighter. I noted very little bird activity. Perhaps they had sought shelter from the wind, just as I had for most of the day.

When I turned northward, with the wind at my back, I pushed back my hood just in time to catch sight of a majestic bird that seemed to revel in the wind. A Red-tailed Hawk was soaring about 200 yards above me. With its wingtips outstretched, it faced directly into the rushing wind, buoyed by the moving air with no need to flap its wings. The motionless hawk seemed suspended from the blue sky by an invisible thread. Then, with a slight turn, it became an untethered kite and flew out of sight.

Red-tailed Hawk photo by Winston Walker

Summer

Late summer—still and quiet. Such a change from midsummer when the natural world took advantage of the longest days of the year. Just a few weeks ago, robins constantly patrolled the grass looking for food for their hungry nestlings, and spotted towhees seemed to sing all day long. Now, all the nestlings have grown up, and the birds no longer wake us up before dawn with their bubbly songs. Though warm weather still lingers, the change in bird behavior signals that summer days are fleeting and fall is already beginning.

Yellow and purple are the colors of late summer and early autumn. Traces of yellow are emerging in the deep green leaves of summer. Dotting the hillsides of the foothills are two late-blooming wildflowers—bright yellow Golden Aster and purple Blazing Star.

Blazing Star photo by Melissa Walker

As I walk slowly through the wild edges of our open space park, I am contemplating change and transitions. Then, a flickering shadow shades my eyes and patterns my sleeve. For a moment, I am in the shadow of a butterfly. For only a moment.

Swallowtail Butterfly photo by Winston Walker

(In appreciation to my brother Winston Walker for the Swallowtail Butterfly photo he took yesterday, not yet knowing the topic of my article.)

Fall

It simply appeared, yet was already over six feet long by the time I first noticed it. It had already overtaken the side of the compost and looped through the overturned wheelbarrow. A pumpkin vine. The volunteer vine was growing in an out-of-sight corner of our yard, on the north side of the house between the garage and the fence.

For a couple of years, we tried to grow a pumpkin, carefully choosing the sunny side of the yard, but to no avail. This volunteer pumpkin took advantage of extra moisture near the compost, and quickly grew toward the direct sunlight on the east side of the house. Soon it spilled out into the aspen grove. The racing vine was an organic regatta with velvety sails for leaves.

By early October, one of the pollinated yellow flowers produced a perfectly round, green pumpkin about the size of a basketball. A different volunteer vine (that was almost identical to the pumpkin vine) produced decorative gourds that looked like miniature hot-air balloons.

With the threat of 20-degree weather, I harvested the green pumpkin and the globe-shaped gourds. The gourds have decorated our kitchen for the last six weeks. The green pumpkin has slowly ripened into a warm orange color, and now decorates our doorstep for Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Photo by Author, Melissa Walker

On Frozen Pond

On this frigid February 1st, our outdoor thermometer reads -9 degrees F. The backyard pond is frozen except for a three-foot circle of open water surrounding our circular pond heater. Overnight, a mix of light snow and sleet sprinkled the icy pond, creating a surface like frosted glass.

The smooth snow covering the front and backyard remains untracked all day. The usually active mammals – rabbits, squirrels, fox, deer and occasional bobcats – are nowhere to be seen. The only wildlife visible on this below zero day are birds, their feathers fluffed to trap extra air for insulation.

Cedar Waxwing photo by Winston Walker

Five American Robins fly to the pond in late morning, gathering around the small circle of water. After dipping their beaks into the water, they tilt their heads back to swallow. Soon, they are joined by two Cedar Waxwings, elegant winter visitors to our neighborhood. This is the first time I’ve seen them this year. With my binoculars, I note their sleek, gray feathers and back-swept crest. The Waxwings look like they are wearing a black mask and a cape hemmed in red, black and yellow threads.

This brief glimpse of winter’s Cedar Waxwings reminds me of Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”

Photo Credit: Thanks to my brother Winston Walker for his beautiful photo of the Cedar Waxwing perched on a Crab Apple branch.