By JOAN COLBERT
For the last couple of months, birds have seemed skittish. They form flocks, then fly this way and that while making a lot of noise. Many species seem anxious. They are instinctively aware of seasonal changes.
The calendar heralded fall more than a month ago. It has finally arrived here in Washington, Indiana. We have had a number of cool or cold days, but much warmth too. At last leaves are turning color. I’m still waiting to see and hear a coyote.
I noticed fall coming back in mid-August. That’s crazy you say! I think my first clue was a huge beetle in the dog’s water dish. I sent a photo to Terri King, a local naturalist quite savvy in identifying insects. She told me the beetle was a dung beetle. I let it swim for hours before I finally decided I should release it.
You see, I live on a farm in a rented farmhouse. Rural Daviess County is still foreign to me. On top of this, you might label me as a bit hypersensitive or risk averse to unknown/surprise insects, reptiles, and animals. When I ventured into the vegetable garden I wore knee-high boots, and thankfully did not see one snake.
While I was sleeping, raccoons ate all the corn we had planted. I had seen only one squirrel, one baby skunk, two lizards, a couple of small frogs (when it rained), and some ant hills during the entire summer. This surprised me because there are cattle all around our house. Okay, I saw gnats, lightning bugs, flies, bees, and butterflies too. But no larger animals.
Later in August–after the beetle–I found snails crawling into the dog’s food dish. On any given day, as many as three snails were there with their long bodies stretched out of their shells an inch or more. The barn cat kept her distance, sort of. She kept checking out the dog’s dish when she thought I wasn’t looking.
Because I preferred to feed the dog, I tried to wait until he was around before putting out his food. He’s a timeshare dog and spends his life outdoors, you see. My husband and I share him with the farmer and his family, who live half a mile from us. He is strong and gets lots of walking exercise between our two houses. And, if he comes up short on food, he is quite capable of bringing back surprises and putting them in the side yard.
Soon afterward, we sensed the impending change. I saw bushy brown and black woolly caterpillars. One night, when my husband took out the trash he nearly ran into a spider web above his head. Overnight it seemed there were lots of spider webs at the farm each morning. I looked out and saw them glisten with dew. I thought, “fall can’t be far behind.” That was in early September.
My potted plants showed some weaknesses. Some of the oldest leaves were falling off or turning spotted or yellow. I watered, but there have been few blooms since then. They continue to look spent… including the herbs. My parsley bolted, signifying that its best time is over and that it is surrendering to the new season. The basil flowered and is no doubt producing seed. In using energy to do this, the lower leaves yellowed and withered.
In late September, I stepped out of the front door and felt a thick band of cobweb stretch against my forehead like a sticky rubber band. I brushed it away as I stepped into the yard, then came back into the house. About an hour later I left the house again. The stretchy band was back! I didn’t even notice the type of spider that wanted to control the main doorway. But it had the temerity to spin that trap twice!
The basement has been bug free since we moved here last November. That is, until October of this year. I have seen a dozen or more thick-legged spiders with puffy bodies. Fortunately, most were curled up over the three or four weeks that I continued to discover them. I was able to remove these dead spiders without fear.
One time, however, laundry basket in hand, I cautiously surveyed the floor closely. To my dismay and fright I saw an arachnid just like the others. Except larger. Quite alive. Healthy, even. I shuddered and went back upstairs, with the basket of dirty laundry (as one can never take chances on what could crawl into a laundry basket of clothes).
I knew the humane thing would be to scoop the two-inch spider into a cup and release it outside, but my husband was not around to do this. Instead, I drove 10 minutes to the store to buy a can of insect repellent. When I came home I kicked off my flip-flops and shod myself for battle. Then I descended the stairs looking for the robust intruder. I shook the can vigorously, took careful aim, and sprayed. The target froze, stunned. I waited. Soon the foam-drenched spider scuttled toward the dryer, apparently unhindered by what was supposed to be a lethal soaking. So I sprayed it again.
I felt kind of bad doing this but I really didn’t want it, and possibly its baby spiders too, in the basement. Why couldn’t it have been daddy long legs? I would put a daddy long legs outside!
Another sign of fall? As I drove to the end of the long driveway, there was a yellow, brain-like ball, commonly known as an Osage Orange, that had fallen from the tree across the road. I could count almost twelve month’s passage by this event alone. Last year, I had taken a few of these large brains to the Natural Gardeners Club in Vincennes. I got a lot of grins and smiles and quick identification of this common Midwest (inedible) fruit.
Back in the MD suburbs where I lived most of my life, fall was pretty subtle. It just didn’t grab my attention! All I noticed before the leaves changed color and the weather became chilly was a snakeskin in the shed for each of two years and our own black and brown woolly caterpillars. What have you noticed? Do you think you might enjoy living in the country?