Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rainy Almost Autumn

Today is the kind of day for which I wait all summer long. Finally it is raining and cooling down and what was parched and limp in the garden is looking alive and as though it may bloom on a while yet. The purple coneflowers are finishing up their vibrant display but hidden among the now drab brown seed heads are untold numbers of goldfinches perching and swaying on the drying stalks, eating their fill. Each year I leave the dried flower heads to stand in the yard over the winter, providing cover and sustenance for whatever birds might happen upon them. Much of the garden is showing the unmistakable signs of the end of the season with spring flowers long gone, and summer flowers fading. But the glorious promise of asters still is waiting in the wings, waiting to unfold into a sea of pinks and purples as the finale of the garden year.

Today the front that has brought the rain has also brought new numbers of ruby-throats and they are zipping all over the yard, sometimes at flowers, sometimes at feeders and sometimes at each other. They will be here today and maybe tomorrow and then they will be gone to points southward on their long journey. They will be replaced by new travellers in the coming days until the fall migration is over. Hummingbird banders have documented repeatedly that, at this time of year, the little ones we see in our yard on any given day are usually not the same individuals we see on the following day. There is really wave upon wave of hummingbirds moving through and the ones that visit our yard this year as they travel are quite likely to be here again next year. I find it almost unimaginable that something so tiny and that travels so far can somehow keep in its brain where the good feeding stops were in previous years. Of course, the more feeding tables they find, the stronger their condition and the better the journey. I sometimes wonder what our landscape would look like if everyone planted to assist the creatures that move through on their their way south.

The other visitor that seems to be everywhere right now is the Monarch butterfly, again on its own way south to Mexico. Mid to late September is the height of the Monarch migration and if your yard grows flowers that nourish them- zinnias, asters, goldenrods, joe-pye weeds, ironweeds, Mexican sunflowers and others-you should be seeing high numbers this year. The dozens of Monarch caterpillars I wrote about previously have been pupating, emerging and feeding and will soon be moving on as adults. All of the summer's earlier Monarch generations have done their part in laying the eggs that sustain the population but none of the previous adults will leave our area to go elsewhere. Only these we are seeing now will head south and they will travel by the thousands. These creatures have been living this life cycle and making this trek for longer than any of us will know. To think that I can have a part in ensuring the success of those who come through my yard is both humbling and exciting. To still have a means of being connected to how life was once lived before we humans made so many changes is a rare privilege and joy.

I look forward to the rest of the seasonal parade that will move through and into our yard during the next couple of weeks. Sometimes there will be wood warblers on their way to Central and South America stopping in for insects lurking in the tree tops. Sometimes thrushes and towhees will come grubbing for worms and tasty morsels under the accumulated leaf layer of the hedgerows and the small woodlot. And soon the winter flock of white-crowned sparrows will move back and be taking up residence in the nearby brushy streamside area, yet deigning to visit our yard as well. They too are here every year, arriving in September or October and heading north to breed in northern Canada by mid May. I am honored to have them.

I am grateful to be allowed to share in the workings of this natural world, a world that has been present for far longer than people have lived in these parts. I need this space and these creatures as an anchor to a Life that is larger than my own and as a reminder that living on Earth is not all about me. I need the reminder that God invites me to participate in His creation and in relationship with Himself. The richness of both is my reward for accepting His invitation.

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