Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Autumn afternoon

Today seemed like a good day to try to sort out which species of oak trees we have growing on the property. We're sorry to have to say that, until recently, we knew there were oaks and let it go at that. After reading much of Gary Snyder and some additional bioregional writings, we became embarrassed at not being better acquainted with the neighbors we've had for almost 20 years. We think it was the discover of black cherry trees that served as out tipping point. Welby R. Smith's Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota has been sitting on the bookshelf for several years. Mr. Smith writes "The state's oaks fall into two major groups: the red oak group (section Lobatae) and the white oak group (section Quercus). We were doing moderately well until we reached the statement "Oaks hybridize eazily within their own group..." After looking carefully at some of the leaves, we have tentatively arrived at the following identifications:

photo of bur oak leaves
 bur oak                         © harrington
photo of northern red oak leaves
northern red oak            © harrington
photo of white oak leaves
white oak                    © harrington

As we were taking these photos of oak leaf clusters, we glanced to our right and, there by the side of the road, stood a whitetail doe, ignoring the fact that it was early afternoon, in fact, almost mid-day. Her expression wasn't really clear, but her body language indicated she was trying to figure out who we were and what we were up to. We took her picture. At this point she was about 100 yards or so away. (The scale of the picture makes it look like more.)

photo of whitetail doe (distant)
whitetail doe (distant)      © harrington

We decided it would be fun to see how close we could get to her before she had had enough. We walked 10 or 15 yards with the camera in front of our face and out arms tucked close to our sides, stopped and took another picture. She stood still, still figuring. Same routine twice more, she's still standing there. One more time resulted in this picture:

photo of whitetail doe (closer)
whitetail doe (closer)      © harrington

At this point, she decided she didn't want to play anymore, swapped ends, raised her flag, and disappeared into the woods. We headed back to the warm house. These kind of chance encounters are, it seems to us, much more likely to occur in the country than in the city. They're one of the major reasons we live where we do. We seem to always be among Aldo Leopold's "Cannots." There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. (A Sand County Almanac). Bruce Weigl's poem reminds me of the days in Vermont when the grouse hunters (unarmed for deer) saw all the deer and the bow hunters (ill-armed for grouse) flushed most of the grouse.

My Autumn Leaves

By Bruce Weigl 
I watch the woods for deer as if I’m armed.
I watch the woods for deer who never come.
I know the hes and shes in autumn
rendezvous in orchards stained with fallen
apples’ scent. I drive my car this way to work
so I may let the crows in corn believe
it’s me their caws are meant to warn,
and snakes who turn in warm and secret caves

they know me too. They know the boy
who lives inside me still won’t go away.
The deer are ghosts who slip between the light
through trees, so you may only hear the snap
of branches in the thicket beyond hope.
I watch the woods for deer, as if I’m armed. 

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