Gone are the goldfinches: A fat spotted towhee helps clean up birdseed fallen from our feeder.
OCTOBER MARCHES ON, and as I approach six months of retirement I’m starting to tune in more keenly to the natural cycle on our little piece of the San Juan Islands in a way I never could during 15 years of coming for only one weekend a month.
Now I see changes every day as I climb the path to my writing hut or sit in the big wicker chair in our living room and look out the window to the birds at the feeder. More and more, I’m appreciating the soothing, Walden-like existence at our Nuthatch cabin.
It seldom gets very hot on our island, even in midsummer, but it does get dry. By August the woods were crispy — you could hear it as you walked in the parched duff of dead grass and dry needles.
Now, after a few weeks of frequent rain nature is bouncing back. Thick moss that had dried out like the bristles of a scrub brush is now again plush and emerald-colored. Tiny wild strawberry plants in our yard are back by the hundreds after disappearing into the dust all summer.
On the rocky knoll where I write, delicate ferns and the spiky foliage of dormant wildflowers have reappeared overnight. In a smaller and more subtle way, it’s akin to the spectacular desert blooms you hear about in California and the Southwest — just add water and nature goes berserk.
After autumn rains, soft fronds of fern have emerged among the fallen leaves and rejuvenated mosses on our rocky knoll.
Our bird life has changed with the season, as well. The goldfinch families have moved on and the chickadees that could clean out our feeder in hours are far fewer. In their place we have an immigration explosion of spotted towhees (no oaf-in-chief can put up a border wall to keep them out, thank goodness). The big birds with a splash of robin-like red around their breast and distinctive spots on their wings frequent the understory — skittering around in our salal so loudly at times it makes you wonder if somebody is sneaking up on you through the bushes. They fill the air with a whining call that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes as “a catlike mew.”
They’re entertaining, big enough that their landings keep the boughs of the wild currant that grows out of the rocks just below our deck railing waggling as if in a high breeze. And they seem to prefer to pick up the birdseed that other birds have knocked out of the feeder, so they help clean up our deck. (I’ll get you guys a little tiny pushbroom if you’d just get those last bits out from between the cedar planks…)
Seeming to prosper after an unplanned pruning by a rogue deer, our nasturtiums are putting on a final show of colors of the season.
We’re also enjoying a final, belated showy bloom from the nasturtiums on our deck, in autumn colors of yellow and orange, happily defying any hint of frost to come.
I hope you’re enjoying this season as much as we are.