Knowns and Unknowns

wasp blue and purple 2

I think this wasp might be a steel-blue cricket hunter because the crickets are out and about. Though it seems like I hear them all summer long I don’t ever see crickets until fall officially arrives. But all it takes is one solstice and poof: suddenly they appear. Everywhere. And where there are crickets, there will be wasps.

Other signs share stories about how the world is shifting and adjusting to changes in the sun’s energy. Though we haven’t seen rain for many weeks the temperatures have finally reached that sweet spot where dew can form. Water from nowhere. It is so abundant and weighty the purple mulhy grass gets pushed right to the ground. What a strange grass it is. The texture is reminiscent of cotton candy. When highlighted with water drops, the colours are as glittery and improbable as a 1950s tinsel tree. But it sure is efficient at capturing water and it probably will save many lives as we all wait for the autumn rains.

Autumn has always awakened a yearning for change in me. Where I grew up it was the time when the birds left. I imagined them flying off to tropical paradises and felt some envy. That letter V in the sky represented freedom.

Now, fall means the birds have returned and I am filled with hope. Once again, screech owls trill in the darkness. Only in October do I ever hear crows. I can hear them calling now from literally miles away. Both birds pull me out of the house and suddenly I realize: the air feels fresh and new. Quickened.

This fall questions of renewal and vitality are piling up inside me. I feel so fortunate just to be alive; I don’t want to be wasteful of the gift. What to do. What to do.

On the pavement is a reminder that life feeds on death …

ants mobbing Gulf fritillary
ants mobbing a fallen Gulf fritillary

And in the shrubbery, I see a reminder that life requires change and growth  …

snake skin

This snake skin might explain the disappearing rat trick. Last winter I spotted two rats living in our garden shed. I didn’t want to share the news with my husband because he is more practical than I am. I’d be happy to give them shelter but I knew he would want them evicted. With extreme prejudice if need be. Just as we were beginning negotiations, all signs of the rats slipped away. From time to time I had wondered what happened to them.

snake skin and head

The skin I found measured a couple of feet long. Where the eyes were the skin was diamond clear. The hexagon-like pattern on top looked more like bubble wrap than the photo suggests. As I unravelled the snake skin from the branches I kept expecting it to tear but keeping it intact was easy. Snake skins are not nearly as delicate as I imagined.

I did want to know what kind of snake was living with us. The dorsal pattern can be used to determine if the snake is a viper or a constrictor. This snake happens to be some kind of constrictor and so we need not fear it. My best guess is that it is from a baby rat snake. If so, it could grow to be very big — bigger than I am.

In the meanwhile I will be watching for something that might look like this:

Bogertophis subocularis image from Wikipedia
Bogertophis subocularis image from Wikipedia

My fall gardening time is mostly spent on raking up leaves to feed my garden soil. Feeding soil is easy. Pile up the leaves and everything just takes care of itself. Feeding the spirit? I am much less certain. What needs to die within. What wants to grow and change. I guess that is what winter is for — time for dreaming and the process of renewal to begin.

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42 thoughts on “Knowns and Unknowns

  1. Debra I adore your unique observations. I don’t think I have seen ants mobbing a butterfly before….but we do have snake skins from time to time. Ours are drawn to the pond and we know there is a den somewhere around the pond. Although we still have lots of voles and mice. Fall is fascinating for critter watching.

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    1. Thanks, Donna. I assumed there must be at least one snake around — if not here than nearby — but hadn’t seen any evidence so it was a nice find. Fall really is a good time for getting outside to see what is out there.

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  2. Love that you included insects and a snake. We have garter and ribbon snakes here that sun in our bushes. I did find a skin once and I too was surprised at how strong it was.. Great nature post….Michelle

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    1. Thanks, Michelle. heh. I would LOVE to post about birds and more charismatic things but insects is most of what I’ve got. hahaha

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  3. Living in Austin makes you appreciate small changes: five-degree drops in temperature, a half an inch of rain, basil pods stacked one flower higher. We don’t get many huge swings, but there’s lots to find in the subtlety. The one noticeable bringer of Fall that we will get soon is the monarchs; I’ve spotted some enjoying the milkweed I planted last May. The system works!

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    1. Yes! Living here really highlighted how even a few degrees difference in temperature or a few inches of rain can have huge consequences. Someday I’d like to travel to the cloud forest in Mexico to see all those butterflies when they arrive home. Hopefully before it is too late.

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    1. heh I wish they would visit me. I never get hummingbirds. We have way too much shade but I have seen them pass by and they looked happy and safe. =)

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  4. It’s such a gift to see a little garden snake, or remnant thereof. I’ve had larger rat snakes from time-to-time and they’re so beautiful. And, the eat rats, so yeah, they’re welcome. I know that many people feel a sense of slowing down at autumn’s approach, but I feel the opposite. I guess for us here in long, hot Texas, our end-of-summer truly is the tough time of year.

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    1. There is a bias to think of our world as having four seasons. True enough if you live in a temperate place but Central Texas is subtropical and it has a totally different rhythm. It has been really interesting adjusting. It was a gift to see that snakeskin. I really hope I can see the owner someday.

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  5. Such a lovely seasonal post Debra. Wow, that snake skin! Do you ever feel a bit vulnerable when you are grubbing about in the garden? I think I would be too scared to garden if I knew there were snakes about. Now and then I see a harmless grass snake and that is bad enough. Ophiophobia is a peculiar sort of atavistic fear for people to have who are born and bred where there are no really dangerous snakes.

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    1. Thanks, Chloris. I should have been more attentive to possibly frightening someone. So sorry. This was the first time I had seen evidence of a large snake at this property and we’ve been here for more than ten years. I have seen skinks and some tiny blind snakes though. (They are adorable: a very pretty pink/purple sheen and only a few inches long). By far the majority of snakes here are harmless. The few that are poisonous aren’t likely to be found in this wooded lot. The only thing I truly fear out there is accidentally contacting the poison ivy. Even touching the roots is a problem.

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  6. Beautiful words and photos!

    I’m feeling a similar sense of freshness and renewal here in the southern hemisphere as the days grow longer and the air grows warmer. Different seasons, but the same processes cycling ever on.

    I look forward to seeing what comes from your questing and dreaming.

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    1. Thanks, Rach. It is a similar process, isn’t it? One of few good things the internet gives us is a chance to connect to people literally on the other side of the globe. The reversal of seasons never fails to fascinate me and I especially look forward to seeing your summer photos when we reach winter.

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  7. I am cool with the theory of rat snakes. The cooler weather is a delight, but it’s insisting I commit to a new creative endeavor. Not sure where this is leading, but it’s beyond the homemade squash soup.

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    1. Rat snakes are common enough that it felt like a safe bet. haha. I love squash soup! But I am intrigued — what kind of creative endeavour? I recently joined an art group and when I went to start my project I realized the box of painting stuff had sat in the closet for close to ten years untouched.

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      1. I’m sure I would find the box of clay in the closet is now a brick. I’m leaning toward textile work, but am starting simply with paper-cuttings. I look forward to seeing some of your art.

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    1. Thanks, Alix. Trying to capture the snakeskin was a bit frustrating. The lighting was poor and the subject kind of ephemeral. I am so glad people’s imaginations are able to fill in the blanks!

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  8. How nice you describe that feeling, of things dying, and things coming alive, inside of us and outside there in the larger world, and that keeps everything in balance. So enjoyed your post and beautiful photos, thank you so much.

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  9. We’re artificially influencing this process around our house. We’ve trimmed some things so they can’t flourish and we uprooted a couple of trees that weren’t going to make it, promising to replace them in the spring with heartier stock. (it’s not worth snow blowing around a dead tree)

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  10. That wasp is a beauty – what a wonderful capture. The couple of them I’ve seen were constantly in motion and at top speed. Really nice work.

    Autumn is definitely one of those liminal times. The changes are the constant. I try to slow down and open up, remembering I’m not in charge, only able to bear witness and then only if I’m watchful. And the light…. Isn’t it something!?!

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    1. Thx, Deb. I was happy with the colour not so much with the focus. haha. Yes. The light. Luminous. In the mornings so gentle and perfect; at sunset so brilliant. I truly do love this time of year.

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