The Leaf Man Cometh

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So much for plans to sleep in on Saturday. Late last night I realized that TODAY was the volunteer leaf pick up in my town. Most years the city provides leaf vacuuming, curbside, but the last two years, no-go. Budgets and all that. This year a mayoral candidate organized a volunteer effort to pick up the leaves and take ’em to the county mulch pile. Cool.

I’m not a leaf raker & bagger normally. I believe in mulching the leaves to feed the grass, rather than consigning bags of leaves to the dump. But I haven’t kept up with raking this year, so this was an opportunity to support the cause, ensure the leaves go to mulch and not landfill, and catch me up. There are still leaves around to mulch, so fall’s duties are not quite over.

Pickup starts at 8 a.m. so at 6 a.m., wishing I was still snug in my warm bed, I’m out there in the dark, raking and bagging. A street light made it reasonably possible for the first hour or so, but I still felt a bit sneaky doing it in the dark! Results? My shoulders ache, I’m still amazed my little yard could generate twelve bags of leaves, but at least the task is complete. Now I can shower and leaf (groan) to go the coffee shop for the day to work on the Nano novel.

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Denizens

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berries.jpgOctober is my favorite month for many reasons: autumn begins, colors commence; Halloween and pumpkins, and the shift (finally) to cooler weather. While we here in Texas have random bits of color (but rarely until November), we take some solace in not having to deal with the leaf peepers as do New Englanders. There are parts of Texas where small areas of amazing color, such as the Lost Maples Natural Area with its isolated, uncommon stand of Uvalde bigtooth maple trees (I’m planning a visit there in November and will, of course, blog ’til I’m fuzzy about the trip hoping to elicit gasps of “That’s Texas?” from the bloggies). But for now I can only grab color where I can on my nature walks, be it in the bright purple berries of unknown plant or the denizens that live and work around the pond that is always a pleasant stop on the way.

My daily walk nearly always finds me at this large man-made pond nestled between the conference center and some office buildings. It’s one of the original ponds (a dammed-up stream artistically created from the blueprints of some long-gone landscape architect from the early days of the development), which makes it at least 30 years old (plenty of time for many generations of denizens to come and go making the pond a permanent wildlife habitat). There is one spot in particular though, a picnic table nestled in some trees with a picture-window view of the pond, I call my “office.” That is where I do some of my best daydreaming. I’ll blog more about that spot in an upcoming post but for today, let me introduce you to the pond party I see daily.

There are a myriad of ducks and geese whose colors cover just about all that Mother Nature provides to them. Many of these stay at a distant but there is a group that hangs out around one part of the trail seemingly fearless of humans (not a good idea in general, but fine when it means this human whom I sense duck.jpgthey can tell is a friend). They congregate on the trail acting more like bored teenagers: harassing each other and playing games on the hapless among them. As I walk the trail and approach them they all stop, look, and listen…but don’t give way. As if some sort of code exists that this ground was theirs before humans, they allow me to thread my way through them but know they have first rights to the land yet barely move as I silently walk through the gaggle, feeling every bit like a person in the wrong place, waiting for the leader to scream, “Let’s get him!” and a proper mugging ensues. (That would make a good headline: local fool mugged by fowl gang.) But I pass, silently and respectfully, and I sense the creatures understand I’m sympathetic to their kind, a nature boy of sorts, so they allow me to pass with minimal disruption. The few that do move a little to allow passage give low-level grunts and quacks showing their displeasure in a lightly threatening way. A few of these fellows’ heads come above my waist, so I’m not talking little fuzzy Easter ducks here.

Passing without incident is not guaranteed, however, if one is a feathery outsider. The ducks.jpgblack duck wandered into the “hood” and was promptly greeted by a circling of the guards (with much chatter on the white ducks parts). I’m simply an observer so I watched the proceedings, not willing to interfere even if they attacked the black duck. But the show was false bravado; either that or the black duck gave the secret duck sign of capitulation and thus allowed to stay, since no beaked blows came. Soon the white ducks let him be and went looking to harass something else.

Larger birds frequent the pond as well, but are harder to capture on camera. There is a mating pair (my guess, no facts) of white cranes (herons?) at this pond, but I only managed to catch this one shot from a distance, maxing out my digicam’s zoom to catch him (her?) in the tree. The shot I *didn’t* catch (but tried) was when the bird gracefully floated in his approach to tree, wings and legs fully extended in an heron.jpgobvious show of supreme control. He looks small in the picture, but with all appendages extended it’s an amazing sight.

The pond is also full of photographically shy turtles, fish, and nutria as well. I’ve lost count how many turtle shots I’ve pursued with nary a pix to show for the effort. Those dudes are plain shy and dive at the slightest sound or motion close to them. I’ve seen great shots of 4, 5, or more turtles stacked and sunning on dead trees exposed slightly above the water, but every time as I raise camera to capture they plunk out of sight. Maybe turtles are Hollywood stars from former lives, their evasive techniques reminding me of eluding paparazzi. Plus If I were a tasty-in-the-shell meal I’d be leery of everything too. The nutria, however, are almost approachable. Whether they are just as curious as I or simply posturing for a handout I don’t know, but I’ve taken enough shots of them to warrant their own feature post, which will be coming in the days ahead.

When times are challenging nothing helps me like a walk in nature. There’s something soothing and reassuring about walking away from the noise of civilization to visit quietly in the world that existed for countless years before man stepped forward and began slowly decimating the world. While my pond isn’t exactly natural nor away from it all, it’s existing harmoniously though surrounded by man’s concrete and steel. A good compromise? Perhaps. But I can’t help feeling we’re changing too much of our planet and erring in not leaving enough natural areas, just in case this whole “human” thing was an evolutionary mistake. And so I continue to venture forth, realizing with every new visit in nature that for me these visits are not just desired, but are absolutely necessary for my soul:

> “We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.” – Henry David Thoreau