In November of 1858, Henry David Thoreau's neighbor shot a hawk that had been after his chickens. We know this because Thoreau took the dead bird home, examined it, and made notes and drawings in his notebook. Does anyone keep a notebook anymore?
I went for a hike in the desert in late October. I was amazed at all the colors! One species of prickly pear changes color in the fall like some deciduous trees. Some nopales of patches of Opuntia polycantha were a deep, dark burgundy. The shades of gold, light green and browns all over the desert made me think of watercolors, though I am not a painter.
In his notebook Thoreau wrote, "The same thing which keeps the hen hawk in the woods — away from the cities — keeps me here." I'm not very much like Thoreau, but I think I understand what he is saying.
He continues in his journal that he examined the hawk's feathers carefully, made drawings of them, and commented about the delicate beauty. Thoreau made more than 800 sketches in his journals over the course of several decades. I wonder what will happen to my notebooks. Oh yeah, I don't have any.
Another day I walked home from downtown using the Blue Heron Trail. There were ducks on the lakes and river. The water looked cold and empty of fish. But then, I saw a huge catfish swimming slowly upstream in the shallows next to the bank. I stopped and watched it swim by. It ignored me.
Henry David Thoreau lived for two years, two months, and two days by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. His book, "Walden, or Life in the Woods" is a model of intentional and ethical living. I have always intended to live intentionally, but the road to good intentions doesn't seem to be leading anywhere I want to go. Personally, if I was going to go to the woods, I would tough it out for two years, three months, and five days. Those are all prime numbers.
Have you ever noticed that the light in late fall is different? Sometimes, it creates a sheen around plants that seems to make them glow. The dead cheatgrass that grows everywhere along the Old Spanish Trail seems to glow in the early mornings.
Taken together, the muted colors, lack of sound, fewer animals, strange lighting, and cold make me think more serious thoughts. My wife thinks I think nutty things that are not generally very serious. Thankfully, November seems to be a time for serious thoughts.
The insects are all gone for the winter and that is very sad. Very few people get to see a penguin in the wild, giant pandas eating bamboo in China, or Rocky Mountain porcupines balled up like giant pinecones. But during the spring and summer, there is an exciting world of insect life that is available to all just for the price of lying on one's stomach in the grass for a while. Well, that probably isn't true anymore. You'll more likely just pick up minute traces of pesticides and herbicide on most domestic yards now.
When I worked in mosquito control, I'd come upon skunks quite often. They would stomp their hind legs and raise their tails. Luckily, they always gave me a fair opportunity to slowly back away. There are a lot of animals I don't see very often anymore. Skunks, horny toads, roly-polys, and water skippers to name just a few.
I wonder if that is because there are fewer of them now, or because I have stopped going into the places where they can be found. Either explanation is kind of sad. It's hard to find dead birds to examine on city streets. No one can shoot hawks anymore, even if they are after your chickens. But that's all right because I don't have a notebook to write things down in anyway.
Gary McCallister, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.
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