Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Red lantern days

This morning, as I was watering the chrysthanthemums, it started to sprinkle. I closed the nozzle, put down the hose and went into the house. Before I started this post, I looked out the window. Water was no longer falling from the sky. Sometimes, Mother Nature can be as contrary as "Mary, Mary." If a decent dousing doesn't arrive before this afternoon, I'll finish the hand watering. I had been forewarned, since, although I spent yesterday afternoon playing with my camera to avoid a repeat of that morning's star photography debacle this morning, as I congratulated myself for being ready, I noticed while walking my dog, this morning's sky was nicely cloud covered.

Winterberry bordering a swamp
Photo by J. Harrington

Last weekend was more of a success. While out exploring, I noticed the striking red berries pictured above. I took a couple of photos and finally identified the plant as Winterberry or Black alder. I'm glad we didn't bother to pick any since the notes state: "the fruit should not be eaten by humans as it is a purgative." Even though it's still September, the bright red fruit made me think about Aldo Leopold's October essay on Red Lanterns in A Sand County Almanac . I used to hunt ruffed grouse (often known as a partridge in New England) in October, although I never tried Leopold's strategy of moving from blackberry bush to blackberry bush (whose October-red leaves were Leopold's red lanterns). I have often wandered from sugar maple to sugar maple or apple tree to apple tree, enjoying different kinds of red lanterns.

Another "red lantern" of Autumn
Photo by J. Harrington

The fact that Minnesota supports a fairly healthy ruffed grouse population carried some weight in my long ago decision to move here. I've found that country populated by ruffed grouse, and streams full of brook trout, serve as major attractions that My Minnesota can offer to those of us who love wild country and this time of year. Years ago John Voelker explained my perspective better than I ever hope to, and I wouldn't be surprised if Sandra McPherson hasn't visited some of the coverts I used to hunt.


By Sandra McPherson
This water flows dark red   
            from alder tannin:   
boot-stain river   

                        between white rocks.   
            An ouzel, flannel-feathered,   
sips the current up.   

            spread their patches   
across a dry, flat turnaround.   

                        They seem embarrassed,   
            want to shelter in the dark.   
A coyote running in broad day;   

                        stumps ruffling   
            with sulphur polypores   
woodsy to the tongue,   

                        woody to teeth. Early   
            yellow leaves paste river to its bed;   
blackberries drop, the last,   

                        many out of taste   
            and strictly smudge.   
Puddles loop in the road:   

            the foolhen   
waits there for   

                        the fool gun,   
            gray throat-down free in a burst,   
the pose, the afterslump.   

                        Carcass beside spirit.   
            O come to my hand, unkillable;   
whatever continues, continue to approach.

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