By Boak Wiesner
Summer is supposed to “start” tomorrow, that is, it is Memorial Day. So, who gets to say when a season gets to start anyway? The tourism bureau? Astronomers consider the movement of the Earth around the Sun, and they say summer starts on the Summer Solstice. This year’s that’ll be at 4 minutes after midnight on June 21st. But don’t some places think of that as mid-summer? Original peoples around here called it Bduketo, and June is the Month When Strawberries Ripen. In any case, it means that the school year is coming to its end which makes me reflect on the past year, all epistemological and stuff. Have my students learned anything? From where does knowledge come? How is it passed on?
I was thinking of this as I traversed a steep hill west of Wood Duck Pond. I was following the contour line as best I could across the slope, but with an incline of almost 40 degrees, it was a little tricky, even just to stand. And that got me thinking about Sidehill Gougers. I learned about them at day camp when I was just a child, but the story has stuck with me, so tightly in fact that I probably never walk across a hill anywhere without thinking of them. Our counselors used the story to keep us from causing too much erosion by walking on hills. Will any of the concepts I taught to my students stick as well? Some people consider Sidehill Gougers to be fictitious beasts that can only move sideways on hills as their legs on one side are longer than the other. They figure into stories from Paul Bunyan and such. But just because I haven’t seen one, does that mean they don’t exist? I finally saw an Orchard Oriole last week, too, one of several “lifers” on my list I’ve seen recently. I knew they were around but I had never seen one. Does that make it more “real”?
On my way, I came across some Hepatica. The leaves come in three lobes, just like the liver of most vertebrates. With one of my classes studying the digestive system, I wondered if they could make the connection between the main organ of metabolism and this pretty woodland plant.
In the foliage overhead was a Chestnut-sided Warbler – “Please, please, please to meet-cha!” it is saying. This is one that I learned from my brother-in-law’s brother, way back when, and is one of the calls I teach to my own students. There must be a word for this, i.e., turning bird songs into English phrases to learn their meter and intonation, but I have yet to learn it. In grassy areas I listened for the Savannah Sparrow’s “Take, take, take it eeeasy” but none were out today. Perhaps the lingering winter our area experienced has kept them in the south. Maybe this coming week of much more summer-like weather will bring them out.
Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter can be seen quite close to each other this week, to the east, to the left of the Sun, that is, about a hand’s spread, at sunset.
Even the title of this week’s contribution is the title of an Olde English song that I learned from my high school English teacher and have never forgotten.
Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.