Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvest moon

Well, there must be a shortage of words in the Denver, Casper, Birney areas because not one of my favorite blogs, including mine, has been updated lately. Perhaps the very changeable weather has us all confused. Hot one day, cool the next, then back to hot, and then downright chilly. We've had some thunderboomies rattling around in Denver but no moisture to speak of. The T-storms were just enough to rattle Principessa, our bichon.

This is a picture of the princess, sitting on her Rockies blanket on her 5th birthday. Notice her cowboy bandana.

Got a new camera a couple of weeks ago, a Nikon D 90 with a 70 - 300 mm zoom lens. I wanted a longer lens for pictures of wildlife on the prairie. I've been fortunate since, with pictures of hawks, eagles, pronghorn, and a full moon. I'll start with two pics of a golden eagle that's been hanging around the Plains Center for the past couple of weeks. It is a juvenile, probably born this spring, whose parents have kicked it out of their nesting area to find its own place to hunt.

This photo is of the underside of the bird as it glided past. It shows the typical "fingers" at the ends of the wing of golden eagles, a slight white area near the wing tips, and a white band around the base of its tail. The white band is a sign of a first year golden.

And this photo shows the upper wings of the eagle as it circled. You can almost see the golden head and nape of the neck and the lighter brown mottling on the top of the wings. And you can clearly see the white tail band at the base of its tail. What a magnificent bird. He's spending time in our part of the prairie because we've got a nice banquet of prairie dogs.

And last night was the full moon known as the Harvest Moon. It is known as that because it comes during the end of summer/fall harvest. Last night the moon rose at 6:45 and the sun set at 6:55, meaning that the moon was starting to light the earth as the sun's light was decreasing. I went out to PCC last night to take part in a full moon walk, and it was wonderful with that bright moon lighting the earth. Farmers relied on those longer days, lit by the full moon, to give them more light to get in their crops.

I took a couple of pictures of the moon with my new camera a few minutes after it rose above the horizon. The tipis are replica Cheyenne tipis, circa 1837, that we use to teach kids about those who lived on the prairie, the Indian cultures and the homesteaders. Beyond the tipis, out of sight, is a sod village with two sod homes and a sod chicken coop, blacksmith shop, one-room school, and a heritage garden.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Some thoughts and poems from the prairie

I've been wandering, and at times sitting, on the prairie enjoying the last of the summer critters that are out there. This morning, for instance, we did our normal first Saturday bird survey and found an extraordinary number of burrowing owls. This summer, we've probably counted no more than 6 birds in one morning. This morning we counted 15. That's wonderful. These were all fledglings, this year's class, getting ready to head south where Mom and Dad have already gone. Neat how these little owls have figured out that they should scout the vacation scene without the kids and let them come down a couple of weeks later. Here's a haiku based on this morning's fun.

   small summertime owl
       long legs, hooked beak, yellow eyes
   brown, plush, feathered joy

And we saw several magnificent ferruginous hawks, our largest buteo and great prairie dog exterminator. They are again gathering now that their nesting season is over. We think that most of the ferruginous hawks we saw this morning are juveniles who are looking for a good food supply for the winter. We've got it for them. Here's a haiku inspired by these inspiring birds this morning.

   ferruginous hawk 
       great hunter of prairie dogs 
   magnificent bird

Last week I went out in the morning just to listen to the prairie. I recently read an article that says we don't spend enough time out in nature just listening to it. So I took my notebook and ears and walked to a place at the Plains Conservation Center where I would be least disturbed by sounds of human activity. Here's one of two poems I wrote based on that experience. The poems are very similar, but I want to send the other one out to a contest, so won't post it here.

Listening to a prairie morning

I sit at the edge of the trail,
in a patch of blue grama and buffalograss,
sun warming my face and arms.
I listen to crickets sing for mates,
a meadowlark trilling from a mullein stalk,
a grasshopper cruising past, clacking
its way above the grass. A painted lady
flutters by. I can't hear her song or wings.
I hear the low drone of traffic on the highway
a mile away, the sound of human frenzy. 

A pair of Canada geese fly over, wind
whispering in their wings.
They call to make sure the other
is still there, or just to say that I'm here.
Mourning doves fly up out of the grass,
their wings squeaking softly as they lift.
A goldfinch flies past chirping cheerily.

In a field of thistles by the creek, crickets
were so loud they drowned the crunch
of my boots, the gliding whistle of airliners
sliding into the Denver airport, the growl
of feeder planes climbing out to Pueblo,
Albuquerque, and Santa Fe.

What a cacophony of sound. I prefer
the voices of the two or three crickets
who sing softly here where I sit and
other prairie sounds that calm me,
the breeze in my ear,
its whisper in the grass,
the melody of a vesper sparrow,
the whiney call of a red-tailed hawk
high in the blue morning.

These sounds of nature feed my soul,
remind me of my need for solitude,
remind me of the need to listen 
for peace and spiritual renewal.

© 2010 Art Elser

I also went to a Garrison Keillor performance at the Denver Botanic Gardens last Sunday afternoon, and it was wonderful. We sat on a grassy, green hillside that descends into a creek lined with mature cottonwood trees. The stage was near the bottom of the hill. Keillor came out through the audience during his opening performance and again at the closing one. In between his band and Sara Watkins played and sang. It was even better than I had hoped, and I laughed more than I have in quite a while. I know Keillor's not for everybody--Kathy almost gagged when I asked her if she wanted to go--but for those of us who love his tales from Lake Woebegone, it was a great afternoon and evening.

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