On the Trail & ‘Round the Campfire

Welcome to my little diversion from the daily grind. Pull up a log or, just sit on yer’ fist and lean back on yer’ thumb (put a smiley face here) and let’s share a moment. I’ll throw another blog in the fire every now and then and, we’ll chew the fat about such mundane things as birds, nature, cowboys and the southwest, USA. I may even wax poetic or philosophical occasionally, but always honoring our creator. If you like something you read, please leave yer’ tracks.

October Trails—Afoot or Horseback

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tb20460Whether horseback or afoot, cowboys enjoy their outdoor surroundins. I've known a few cowhands who enjoy birdin' (bird watching) as they ride their spread and work their cattle, spring and fall. I knew one that even tended some bluebird nest boxes he'd attached to bobwire fence posts, way out on the open range He told me of both Western and Mountain Bluebirds that had nested in his boxes. Since he's carryin' binoculars anyway, he may even carry a Peterson's Bird Guide in his saddlebag. But, modern cowpokes carry Sibley's Field Guide. The diversion of birdin' gives him another reason to appreciate the seasons and notice his grand surroundins'

Well, I leave the warmth of the old wood stove this late October morning. The trail to the fence line is carpeted with the faded discards of summer, like frosted flakes for breakfast. The breeze is holding her breath lightly and among the russets and rufous-reds are hints of yellow green, and my horse is feelin' her oats on the first frosty mornin'. My old stoved-up hip from earlier days aches less in the rising sun and azure sky and scattered puffs of cotton vapor. Carrying a pocket full of blessings and following my breath past rail fences, dark-eyed juncos twitter and flash their tails just ahead of me—and I covet the solitude of ridin' the fence line past these woods.

6193651123 73661b6007Before reaching the feeding grounds of corn fields and walnut groves, somewhere on the other side of the north pasture, a flock of crows stir up a riot and shout obscenities at a day-sleeper, a poor horned owl trying to settle in for a day's rest. He was snuggled up against a scaly trunk in perfect camouflage, at least so he thought, until being persecuted by those of dark temperament.
And then, there they are again—hanging upside down—a half a dozen indecisive goldfinches, now fading to winter tans. They do the dipsy-doodle in front of my horse, from clumps of fuzzy milkweed to fluffy cottontails of parched thistle. And past the nettles on the other side of the willows, song sparrows volley occasional fall notes like crystal bells, then dash in erratic flight, diving for cover in the bramble-berries near the creek.

Riding on beneath the sycamores, there is a tasting room of claret poke berries hanging heavy with purple clusters, inviting waxwings and thrushes and the occasional mockingbird. Nearby, puffed up lark sparrows with hatpin breasts, and white crowned sparrows, seek the morning sun on the tangle of a big old elderberry —a feeding magnet for mockers and phainopeplas in the spring.

Last spring I had spied out the edge of the woods and two most unusual aerial shows were in progress. One consisted of micro-filaments drifting in the morning sun. Buoyant spider webs drifting like minute cable-crossings, hemstitching sunrays to shadows with silken strands of opaque silver threads; migrating to any destination or twig... truly a unique sight. And, the woods were filled with emerging subterranean or dry-wood termites. They erupt seasonally, spring and fall, and fill the air with glittering propellers, like tiny helicopters, seeking more dead wood to ingest and recycle into methane gas. Yellow-rumped warblers had an acrobatic heyday and the air was filled with their 'cheet, cheet! They acted like kids in a candy store and I somehow sensed their joy and satisfaction!

Crossing the creek, the marsh is busy near the tulles, a conservatory for mallard voice training; they yak and laugh at soprano mockingbirds sounding like hand-carved ducks calls. Annoyed, a great blue heron rises languid and hang-glides to the silent distant shore. Soon he is pointing his proboscis in a steely stare at some unseen movement in the muddy shallows.

I quietly dismount in the shadows, but no matter how sneaky or quiet I am, those sharp-eyed painted wood ducks catch my silhouette in the brushy woods and fly up whining like 4th-of-July rockets, warning every creature of my presence. Ah... but, two northern shovelers stay and feed, allowing me to focus my binocs on their beauty; they put on a real show by spinning around each other like tops.

Well... I left the old wood stove cracklin' and it beckons my return to stir the coals and heat up another cup of coffee. Funny how October days and tawny leaves of frosted flakes, migrating warblers and heron tracks in the mud always seem new—evoking another encore. So, I'll ride this trail again and again before the muted light of winter, or my gimpy 'ol hip can't sit in the saddle no more.

© Ed Keenan

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