Lincoln Road Journal, One year in the backyard, July
Thursday, July 15, 2010
The rain arrived about midnight. A gentle shower that persisted until sunrise. The moisture revived the vegetation and it was very green and dark early.
I noticed a doe grazing in the yard. She ignored the light showers, but headed back towards the woods when a large truck bellowed by on Lincoln Road. She stopped in the corning by some downed birch I've left. Sometimes a pileated woodpecker works on the dead logs.
Today there was a ring of mushrooms nearby. The doe noticed them. As I watched she gobbled them up, one after another until most were gone. I've long wondered if deer eat fungi, now I know.
I had to stop home in mid-afternoon to change for helping clean up trash from a section of highway roadside as part of a Rotary Club service project.
I took a quick look around the front yard.
Looking east into the woods a strange spot of light with a hint of tan caught my eye.
I looked more closely. I couldn't be sure, but I suspected it was a deer, a young deer.
And it was. The two fawns I've been watching sporadically were bedded down about 50 feet into the woods, sleeping in dappled sunlight. At times they looked east or west. At times they groomed themselves. At times they rested a head on a torso and napped.
For quite a while the didn't see me.
Then, when the one took a bead on me, it just watched as I knelt at the edge of the yard and sought a relatively branch-free lane to photograph one or both of them. That proved difficult. They had chosen an area thick with brush and saplings.
I watched for about 10 minutes and quietly slipped away leaving them to their rest.
I don't want to turn them into park deer unafraid of humans, for that would be a death sentence in this woods that hosts many deer hunters in fall. But neither did I want to get too close and spook them off. They were doing nothing wrong, just napping. And I was jealous they had the chance to do so.
Little bit of lightning
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
By the time I got home from a too-long day of work, storm clouds were snuffing out the summer light. The air was still, heavy, pregnant with the promise of rain and ominous, hinting at a coming thunderstorm.
The yard was as dark as on a late fall afternoon. Chipmunks raised a racket chattering to each other all around. Deer flies and mosquitoes attacked me as soon as I entered the lowest area of the yard, driving me away fairly quickly.
I made a few photographs, took stock of the mood of the yard and ate dinner.
By 9 p.m. it was mostly dark, with but a bit of ambient evening light making it through the clouds.
On the phone at 9:30, I looked out and noticed the return of one or two lightning bugs -- fireflies, if you prefer. I hadn't seen one in days. They seem only to arrive on the warmest of evenings, the ones most like southern Michigan. I decided against trying to capture the one or two airborne lights. But I enjoyed watching their flickering glow against the dark blackness of the woods.
Then I noticed a flash that I recognized as a quick glow from distant lightning. I never heard the thunder from that quick, netherwordly flash.
Soon, though, rumbles from the west grumbled through the woods promising a storm.
That was an hour ago. No rain has fallen and the lightning and thunder seems to have not arrived.
But it's a night that promises heat, humidity and eventually a storm more akin to the thunderstorm belt in the southern part of Michigan.
We could use the rain. If the lightning does no damage, one can always enjoy the show.
Or sleep through it and let it expend its energy without a witness.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
I wandered the yard today seeking the perfect picture, the new creature or plant, the ultimate summer scene in the yard.
I found water striders in the creek. I found lush green vegetation along the swamp adjacent to the creek. I found beautiful lighting on leaves. I found a spider, a moth and, first thing in the morning, I spooked the doe and her two fawns opening a patio door to eat my cereal outside. Never saw them until after I made the ill-advised grand opening of the door.
The deer stopped and stared my way. I stood stiff as well-dried board nailed to a 2X4 and stared back. They didn't move. Eventually, I slipped back into the house leaving the door open since it was that sound that they were attuned to and didn't like. Inside I put down the granola knowing it was so crunchy a few minutes of standing in milk likely would help it, not ruin it.
I grabbed a camera, checked a few settings -- but not one I momentarily regretted forgetting -- and slipped back outside not quite breaking the plane of the shadows at the exterior wall of the house. The deer stared my way but didn't seem concerned.
I composed, focused and hit the shutter release.
Now a 35mm type camera doesn't make that much noise when the shutter releases at 1/60th of a second duration. But it got the deers’ attention. I looked down, checked the picture and realized I hadn't set the program to manual and the camera slowed the shutter more than I intended. The deer were blurry from camera motion. Now nervous the fawns were about to step into the woods when I made the final adjustment. One more shot, and the noise of the shutter from 150 feet away sent them crashing into the woods with the doe right behind them. I saw them cross Lincoln Road, stopping a southbound car as they did.
A chance for a perfect picture early in the morning was made imperfect by my forgetting to look out the door before I opened it.
That reminder that imperfection is part of life, was encountered time and again the rest of the afternoon when shooting.
The water striders were in harsh lighting that didn't work for a photo. The lush creekside vegetation was so thick individual plants melted into a living pudding of green. The leaves were in beautiful lighting, but the advance of the season left them scarred with wounds from insects so a "perfect" leaf wasn't easily found.
The spider was bashful and quick and hastily darted under a leaf out of the light and mostly out of sight.
It struck me that for those seeking perfect anything in nature, they could easily be discouraged. It's a living system and insects feed on the vegetation and each other. Deer munch flowers and everything else within their reach -- and don't sit still for a photo for me, at least.
It struck me that this interaction that ruined "perfection" was part of the perfectly imperfect natural world often revered, though not really understood. It's a world in flux and a world of eat and be eaten. It's no Disney lovefest. Rather, it's a giant eating machine. The web of life sounds better, but it depends on one life form consuming another wholly or partially, leaving imperfection, in the human eye, in its hungry wake.
July 11, 2010
Spent much of the past week working on the cottage in the Upper Peninsula. Today in the yard, it's easy to see that mid-summer has arrived. The week here has been hot, humid but dry. Grassy areas in the sun are turning as tan as many a sunbather on a nearby beach.
It seems little has changed in a week. Campion are still in bloom. Vetch, though in decline, is still to be seen. Mushrooms and fungi are fruiting set off by the warmth and humidity.
There seems to be little new in wildlife. The red-shouldered hawk hunted the back yard this evening. Jays check out the feeder in the morning though it's been weeks since I've put any feed in it.
Little moths flit about.
I saw a different kind of dragon fly at the creek, which is running clear and now low. I couldn't get a good look at the dragon fly. What I saw of it made me think it was two coupled in sort of a flying square, ephemeral, geometrical and kind of whimsical. But I couldn't see or photograph it to identify it.
Water striders are so thick on the surface of the creek the ripples they set off when they move make it look as if it's raining out. I heard the watery plop of leopard frogs diving into the creek from the grass on the banks to avoid being found by the invader otherwise known as me.
Almost all this is as it has been for these first few weeks of summer.
One change I noted was the blooming of mint. As I walked along the marshy area creekside I bruised the mint plants and they let their fragrance into the air. It was a pleasant change from the sometimes fetid aromas of swamp muck.
Mostly the yard was quiet, as if like the humans nearby, it was taking it easy in the heat, content to relax at home on a hot summer's day.
July 10, 2010
Paradise, Michigan -- This morning while working on the cabin on the shores of Lake Superior's Whitefish Bay, the island of sand that once was the first sandbar before it became exposed in the low water this year, rather suddenly began taking on water. At first it was only an occasional wave pushed by winds from the southeast across the 25 or more miles of open water that washed over the little island of sand that appeared this year. By mid-morning it was apparent the island was going to be covered by water. And soon it was. All was buried as waves broke off what was again -- for awhile -- a sandbar.
It was clear to me, the waves alone weren't enough to swamp the sand, another force was at work: a seiche.
Seiches occur in the Great Lakes when a combination of wind and different air pressure systems combine to push water to one side of the like. The effect can be dramatic. Often it is subtle. Today's was somewhere between those extremes. Low pressure was sitting over the shoreline south of Whitefish Point while on the other side of the bay, high pressure must have held sway. That allowed water to begin rising on this, the western side of the bay. Add the effect of wind pushing waves from the east, and the seiche was in full gear piling water probably 12 inches deeper on this side of the bay for awhile. Quickly the weather moved to the east equalizing pressure and the water sloshed back, too.
Also noteworthy was the appearance of many monarch butterflies, rarely alighting on anything for more than a few seconds. For much of the day, one or two could be seen somewhere near the cabin.
Dancing with a deer
Thursday, July 1, 2010
On a hunch, I went to the east side of the yard to enter the creek ravine. As I neared my entry spot, I looked into the ravine and the doe with the white mark on its snout I've been watching for weeks was standing in the sunlight.
She saw me as I saw her and the next move was hers.
She sashayed further to the east along the creek at a trot.
She was slightly spooked, but not much. I could hear a power washer in use in a yard across the creek. I was pretty sure the doe wouldn't go far.
I didn't move for a couple minutes, then slowly I walked into the woods instead of going down to the creek.
There, 100 feet away, was a splotch of warm, sunlit brown -- the doe. She was eating, unconcerned that she had seen me.
I slipped 20 feet or so more into the woods. The deer was mostly hidden by trees and brush and not in any position to photograph.
She eyed me and slowly moved into a thicket a few feet away on the side of another hill.
I moved a few feet closer, too. Then I set up the tripod, put on the long lens, figured out lighting and waited.
When one dances with deer or other wildlife, a lot of time is spent waiting, not moving, watching, listening, keeping still and quiet.
The doe moved out of the thicket. She looked right at me, staring for a few seconds, then walked towards me. She had accepted my presence as long as I did nothing to spook her.
I watched as she grazed. I made photos when she entered clearings and looked up at me.
Ours was a slow dance with a lot of eye-to-eye contact between the wary deer and the hopeful photographer.
After a couple minutes, she took two long strides right at me and bent her head to the floor of the woods ripping up leaves she munched as she raised her head to look at me.
The leaves fell to the ground when she took her concentration off them.
Again she bent her head to the ground. Again she raised back up with a mouthful of green leaves. Again they fell to the floor of the woods as she stared at me.
I stood quietly.
Suddenly, she turned toward the creek and moved back toward the ravine, stopping at its edge. I moved to the edge, too. For a couple minutes she ignored me, then wandered down into the tangle of oak, hemlock, ferns and brush.
She was gone.
I moved to a vantage point at the edge of the ravine, hidden by large pines thinking she might head west along the creek. I waited quietly, making some photos of bright red moss in the dark underside of a hemlock clump.
But the doe didn't return.
Our dance for the day was over.
I should have thanked her.
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