Late Fall Distractions

By Boak Wiesner

An early November day with little wind, overcast, this being the month in Minnesota that is historically the most cloudy. Because of this, it remains a bit humid, so what I notice most about the time between fall and winter is how quiet the whole atmosphere is in the early morning.

A coyote moseying along through the willows towards 82nd Street, completely unhurried, caught my attention early on in my own ramble. Squatting under a leafless maple, it made a voiceless but still very cogent comment on our efforts to control its numbers here in suburbia. A recent study has shown that the increase in coyotes in the eastern U.S. has led to an increase in Lyme disease. Small rodents such as mice and voles are the reservoir for the bacteria causing it, and the main predators on them are red foxes, the population of which has been devastated by the incursion of coyotes. Reminds me of John Muir’s classic statement, When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” This is the time of year for hunting, too, and in Minnesota, wolves are now considered a target. Hmm, wonder what the main biological control of coyotes is in Nature? Ironic.

Blackberry – Rubus sp.

Thinking of hunting, I recall Aldo Leopold’s piece “Red Lanterns”, set in the late fall, various musings on distractions, which I am certainly capable of being waylaid by, especially when I come to the Arboretum and seek my inspiration from whatever presents itself each time. Those red lanterns are blackberry leaves, red in the fall sun.

Tamarack – Larix laricina

The main sign of late fall that I look for, and I came to it through another of his writings, is the “smoky gold” of tamaracks. Not at all surprisingly, Minnesota’s own Sigurd F. Olson also uses the same very apt description.

Grey Squirrel – Sciurus carolinensis

Further along, I came on a dray of seven squirrels (yes, I looked up what the collective noun for them was), along with a late-to-hibernate chipmunk, all gorging themselves on acorns at the head of one of the ravines that are the main feature of the landscape around which the Three Mile Drive winds.

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.

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