Rural Fall

We had about two inches of snow the other night, but it blew into drifts. Several weeks ago, we had our first accumulating snow that stayed on the level. I had forgotten how much traffic is recorded in a few inches of snow this time of year. These coyote tracks were all around the old farmhouse and that’s not common. Usually, they’re shy and stay down along the Creek.

The trails tell tales and raise some questions. Obviously, the coyote walked along the rabbit’s trail. Was it at about the same time and this is a picture of the hunter and the hunted? Or, was the bunny safe because it came before or after the coyote? There’s no question about the tire tracks, though. The pickup passed later because those tire tracks cut across the coyote trail.

We’re hearing lots of coyote calls on clear, calm nights. We’re also hearing gunshots because the hunting seasons for both deer and pheasants are in full swing. There aren’t many pheasants this year, but we do hear cocky blue jays scolding the persistent starlings. A few straggling geese still honk their way along the Creek. And, on sunny clear mornings we have a silent pair of bald eagles that fly up from the Rock River Valley. Are they hunting or looking for carrion to clean up?

But, this time of year the first snow usually melts so the white gives way back to the brown and gold and green. The song that the north wind sings in green pine needles is different than the one moaning in the bare branches or rattling in the dry leaves of the hackberry trees. And, over the entire landscape we hear the rush of harvest: combines, grain wagons, trucks, and tractors. After the corn and beans are out of the fields, manure applicators move into the stubble.

So, now there’s another whole new spectrum of sensory signals—smells. Seems like the solid manure with bedding mixed in isn’t as obnoxious as the injected liquid manure. But, even the liquid manure isn’t too bad if it’s properly applied and worked into the soil. I do wonder/worry, however, if there are residues of antibiotics or hormones that go into the soil along with the beneficial organic carbon. That extra stuff might impact the health of the soil microbes and that would not be a good thing. I’ve looked for technical scientific studies that would tell us what the impacts of antibiotics might be on soil health. They’re rare. It’s probably easier to get funding to study ways to suppress the smell of manure lagoons.

But, fall on the Farm has other distinctive smells too. The silage that’s fed to cattle now that the grass isn’t so nutritious has a familiar sweet smell. It used to come out of tall silos. Now, it’s stored in big plastic tubes that lay out on the ground like huge white sausages. And, then there’s the signature smells of fall shared between farms and towns. Wet leaves and brown grass both smell the same in the country and in town. If the leaves are dry and burning, the smell is universally a sign of the season.

When we moved back to the Farm twenty years ago, there were familiar sights, sounds, and smells that reminded me of specific seasons. And, coyotes and eagles were really rare. Since then, those sensory signals have re-enforced the distinctive seasonal rounds. And, we regularly see coyotes and eagles all year long.

About Lone Tree Farm on Kanaranzi Creek

Recovering academic, earth scientist in phased retirement, farm manager by default, son, husband, father, grandfather.
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