Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A shrew'd time of year #phenology

This has been an interesting month so far. Yesterday, one of the dogs and I encountered grasshoppers and a snake. Today, scurrying down the gravel road was a northern short-tailed shrew. At least that's what I think we saw. If the dog had had her way, my chance for observance of the critter would have been much briefer, but a tug on her leash interrupted her efforts to grab and swallow, whole and live, the dark grey creature. I'm far from an expert on small furry four-legged beasties so don't assume this was a confirmed sighting but what we saw fits the description pretty well. Seeing one on the road, however, is one of the last things I would have expected. Maybe it was hunting grasshoppers?

pear tree surrounded by five whitetails, 2014
pear tree surrounded by five whitetails, 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

Now that we've mentioned hunting, firearms deer season opens this coming Saturday. Last year and the year before, the pear tree's fruit and the deer population seemed to be in much better shape than this year. We haven't seen any whitetails or turkeys wandering around for quite some time. I'm not sure why. There has been an increase in pickups and SUVs cruising the local roads, and I expect it may get noisy about legal shooting time on Saturday, but maybe not. If the deer we haven't seen just aren't around, it may be quiet.

ice covered local pond, November 7, 2013
ice covered local pond, November 7, 2013
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't know if you remember, but three years ago, the local ponds were starting to get ice covered during this first week of the month. If anyone can suggest references on how to think about the "normal" seasonal variability in a state like Minnesota, sort of bracketing phenology, please add a comment. Much of what I see deals with daily averages for temps and precipitation instead of any sort of distribution by day or week.

Ex Libris


By Eleanor Wilner


By the stream, where the ground is soft
and gives, under the slightest pressure—even   
the fly would leave its footprint here   
and the paw of the shrew the crescent   
of its claws like the strokes of a chisel   
in clay; where the lightest chill, lighter   
than the least rumor of winter, sets the reeds   
to a kind of speaking, and a single drop of rain   
leaves a crater to catch the first silver   
glint of sun when the clouds slide away   
from each other like two tired lovers,   
and the light returns, pale, though brightened   
by the last chapter of late autumn:   
copper, rusted oak, gold aspen, and the red
pages of maple, the wind leafing through to the end   
the annals of beech, the slim volumes   
of birch, the elegant script of the ferns ...

for the birds, it is all
notations for a coda, for the otter   
an invitation to the river,
and for the deer—a dream
in which to disappear, light-footed   
on the still open book of earth,   
adding the marks of their passage,   
adding it all in, waiting only
for the first thick flurry of snowflakes   
for cover, soft cover that carries   
no title, no name.


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