Sunday, August 13, 2006

Blackberries, Black Bears

As you begin to enter the middle of August in this part of Vermont, it becomes apparent that Nature is issuing reminders that summer is fun and it will continue, but it's time to give a thought to cold days ahead. Yesterday it was fogged in here for the first time. Not the Downeast Maine kind of "fogged in" but a fog dense enough to make turning out onto the main highway a challenge. I sat there by Route 2 yesterday morning looking up, then down, then up, then down, hoping to see someone's lights before turning onto a typically busy road.

Yesterday was the first foggy day and in a sense it was nice to see and feel. As I got about 400 feet lower down the mountain than our 1500 feet here at the house, the sky cleared and in the distance the Green Mountains stood strong and clear.

Today in contrast, it was colder but also more clear. The morning sun made the dew shine on spider webs and it seemed to calm insect life to a standstill on the waving goldenrod blooms. Seemed like I woke every hour on the hour last night with pains from yesterday's chores but nonetheless I wanted to get a start on a new day and work the stiffness away with a good walk. I grabbed a coffee and headed down to the field. I intended to try to locate a couple Trillium undulatum for Eric as he had expressed an interest in a couple for his place in Groton. I've been gathering and planting trillium seeds here for a few years and I have had some success. The T. undulatums are later to bloom and I hoped I'd find a good crop.

As I rounded the corner by the tall scotch pine, a movement caught my eye. I pulled back behind a small maple and watched as a doe and twin yearlings fed on the grass. Seconds later I saw a small fawn, spotted, but in good shape, eating the white clover. My mind raced backwards through deer history and for some reason I found myself thinking about The Yearling. How old was I when I first read that I wondered? When I was first allowed to hunt as a kid, I remembered young deer being called "skippers" by the older men. "Saw a doe and a skipper", "only saw a couple skippers", "don't be shooting any skippers"....phrases which reminded me of past times when hunting was more important; for our family, deer meat meant something to go with the potatoes and beans.

I watched for a while but when the big doe looked right at me, I knew it was time to move along. The deer were one step ahead and raced away. I headed towards the white spring but changed my mind and headed down the road that circled back to the pond road. The old log landing had the makings of a great blackberry crop last week but this morning it was well trampled. The bears had spent some time here and the easy picking I expected was not to be. I collected a berry here, a berry there and went about my way. Black bears change their eating habits and they eat the prevailing food which right now must be berries--blackberries. The blueberries have ripened and are dropping to the ground or drying off on their stems.

I made the circle through the red pines and back down to the north side of the ridge. I stopped and looked through fallen balsams and found my first Trillium undulatum. Its shiny red seed pod caught my eye and close by were two others. They seemed well protected from deer and that made me happy as the pods weren't quite ripe yet. Deer love trilliums and often eat the pods before the ants get a chance to disperse the seed. Often they both beat me.

As I headed out towards the road, a red squirrel scurried by with a spruce cone in his mouth. The ground was littered with green cones which means the squirrels had been busy in the trees cutting crops for winter storage. They have a habit of starting early. I wish I could say the same about the woodpile I need to get working on.

When I made it to the road, a single partridge flushed. In the distance I heard what I thought was a car pulling into our drive. I moved right along, checking the washed road sand for tracks. As I made the final bend, the drive was empty. Must have been the paper delivery person. "Good", I thought. There was time to sit outside, scan the Sunday papers and have another cup of coffee. A saucer full of blackberries and cream would have been nice too but the black bears enjoyed them instead.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where the porch light makes obvious the number of moths which like Oriental lilies.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

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