Funny how many events in nature seem to be well underway long before we notice. The summer solstice, way back in June, actually marked the beginning of days becoming shorter, leading to winter – a phenomenon we humans, with our ever-so-short lifespan, are only beginning to detect three months later.
The year’s last cricket rubbed its wings together one evening a week ago, an early October serenade to summer. It occurred to me last night I should have noted the date I heard the cricket I now know to have been the final example of its species for another year. Hummingbirds, too, are there at the feeder – until they’re not.
It also is so with trees. One day they are decorated in myriad shades of green, then, seemingly suddenly, the leaves change to bright colors and carpet the ground beneath the former arboreal canopies. The bright red, orange and yellow hues actually are their real shades, previously overpowered by shades previously created by solar-powered chlorophyl.
For that brief bright blaze between green and brown, the shades spray across the hillsides like paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas.
When I was young, we had a day for the county fair – primarily because many of my classmates worked on farms and the day at the fair was their opportunity to show off their prowess at raising livestock and root crops.
I helped bring in hay for winter, learning to wield a scythe to cut the tall grass and a wide, wooden-toothed rake to pull the browning fiber into rows. When it was sufficiently dry, we hitched the tractor to a wagon with tall fence-like sides and headed for the field. As the trailer moved down the hay rows, several of us would pitch the hay (with a three-tined fork called a pitchfork) into the wagon.
A huge, two-pronged fork – one may be seen hanging in the county agriculture and natural resources center – was used to lift great clumps of hay from the wagon, then drop it into the haymow – that area at the top of the barn where hay was stored and easily thrown down to wintering cattle, and where youngsters could jump into it from the barn rafters.
Now, hay is cut, baled and stored by machines that took over the work, a little at a time, until one day, there was no haymow for rambunctious youngsters to jump into or, when slightly older, hide in.
I would like to bring back the haymow. I can’t say I miss pitching hay, but I learned to drive on that tractor, and jumping into new-pitched hay is a treat any youngster can appreciate.
I bemoan the loss of connection to our food supply – to cows, for instance, that eat the hay, produce milk and become steaks and hamburgers. Several years ago, I covered a story about some kids from Philadelphia excited at seeing real cows on their bus ride to Hanover. To a person, they thought milk came from the grocery store.
I feel badly for young people who do not understand the words of my college geoscience professor: “When you order from Burger King (or whichever is your favorite burger joint), you’re taking a contract on a cow.”
As with many of life’s wonders, we wake one morning and discover the last one disappeared last week – cricket, hummingbird, oak leaf and farm among them. But that’s the way with everything nature – by the time we’re surprised by what’s happened, it’s been done for a long time.
We really should keep better notes.
Thanks for coming along. I hope you enjoyed the ride. Comments are welcome, and please feel free to share.