Choosing Hope

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The goldenrod has gone to seed, its cheerful yellow blooms turned to heads of gray. It is as if a gentle frost has covered the fields. Or they have gone into mourning for the coming winter, when even the flowers’ seeds will drop away, and everything will be laid bare. It will look like death, but it won’t be. Winter, no matter how harsh it may appear, is only temporary. And even during winter life teems beneath the frozen earth. Take heart.

A Model Dog

When I’m taking pictures for my blog, I generally make a point of moving the camera so that my images don’t include my old labrador companion, Poppy. Since she makes a point of shadowing me, no matter how her bones ache, excluding her isn’t a simple matter. Yesterday was no different: I paused for a picture, and, while I fiddled with the composition and perspective, she walked into the frame. Again,

and again,

and again.

It’s hard to be too upset, though, when, first of all, she’s sweet and adorable, and, second, she often improves the pictures, imbuing them with life and interest that landscape alone sometimes can’t. Even if it is a brilliant fall day, which it was.

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Besides, she’s been known to help me with the trash every now and then. Yesterday she carried a McDonald’s coffee cup all the way back to the main walking path for me…and there wasn’t even anything in it for her to eat. (She is a labrador, after all, and her motives and motivations are usually pretty simple and obvious.)

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She really is a very good dog.

 

Weather, According to Caterpillars

I think most people are familiar with with the folklore concerning the Woolly Bear caterpillar: the longer the black bands, the longer and more severe the winter. To be honest, according to my lifetime of anecdotal observations, this is a totally unreliable means of predicting how snowy or cold a winter might be. Just look at these two Isabella Tiger Moth larvae (a.k.a. Woolly Bears, a.k.a. Pyrrharctiae isabellae) I found a couple of weeks ago:

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They don’t exactly look the same, do they? No. And that’s the problem I encounter every year. Arguably, though, taking these two into account, I can see a slight argument for a relatively mild winter. I guess.

What really confused me when I was younger were the Woolly Bears that weren’t really Woolly Bears. For instance, this fellow, the Virginia Tiger Moth caterpillar (Spilosoma virginica), is entirely blond:

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Is he trying to tell me that I should winter in California? No. Absolutely not.

Finally there are some decidedly un-woolly but incredibly interesting caterpillars that hang about in the fall. I think that this Eastern Comma caterpillar (Polygonia comma) is just perfect for Halloween, when it made its appearance:

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Just don’t ask it about snow.

Cooler Reflections

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I’m sitting on the thick branch of a fallen tree, perched just above the waters of the Monocacy and hidden by dangling bunches of ripe pokeberries. The berries are poisonous to us but good food for the birds, who already have consumed about half of the deep purple fruits, leaving the empty magenta stems as simple ornaments.

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There is a pair of chickadees in a nearby tree, their voices more obvious than their tiny feathered forms. They hang from the japanese hop vines, eating their ripe seeds. If I sit still long enough, I’ll see more birds, like the downy woodpecker that just stopped to inspect the maple tree on my right.

It’s perfect sit-and-watch weather, cool and clear and mostly free of the annoying flying insects that plague late summer days. Of course. It’s fall now, but early in the season, when most everything is still clothed in green and the crickets sing at night. Butterflies and moths are making their final rounds among the goldenrod, asters and sneezeweed, and wooly caterpillars are appearing on walking paths.

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At home I’m harvesting the last of my tomatoes and collecting seeds from my zinnias for next year’s spring planting. I hear people speak of spring as the season of hope, but in some ways fall is even more so. Despite everything.