Wednesday, September 30, 2009


This has been one of those days…cool, cloudy, and by necessity, mostly given to work. In fact, I've been stuck at my desk since breakfast…which, come to think of it, I ate at my desk about 6:45 this morning. Lunch, too, when that time rolled around.
Working from home can be as tyrannical sometimes as having a real job at a real workplace—except you can dress sloppier. The nuthatches, goldfinches, titmice, and chickadees who've been steadily cleaning out the seed feeder near the study window, simply don't care how you look so long as you keep the grub coming. And the UPS guy can always use a chuckle.
Of course, when I say I've been at the desk "all day," I don't literally mean every single moment. Being your own supervisor has it's perks. One is the right to bolt up the hall every so often for an apple or a cup of tea. Or to the front room to annoy Moon the dog by awakening her from her latest nap with a lob of one of her plush toys onto her upturned belly. Gotcha!
My hands-down favorite time waster, though, is gazing out the deskside window—watching birds and squirrels, and the 200 yard slice of river visible just beyond. You never know what you'll see on or along the water. Today it was a great blue heron.
Heron are common here, along my "home water" because it's a good stretch for them to do their fishing. Seldom a day passes that I don't see at least one great blue wading stealthy along, hunched, leaning forward a bit, intent on the water ahead. Or alternately, they might elect to simply stand on a rock or in the shallows, as immobile as a driftwood stump, a lurking shadow waiting patiently for their next meal to swim to within striking distance.
I've spent a lot of time watching heron fish.
Today, I got into playing a game of hide-and-seek with a particular great blue heron who insisted on tempting me from my work by parading rather close to the cottage. A good photo opportunity, providing I could out-sneak the sharp-eyed and watchful angler.
I also spend a lot of time trying to sneak within telephoto distance (60 feet or less) of fishing heron. I understand that in some places, great blues will tolerate such distances without alarm; some, in fact, are almost tame, to the point where you can practically walk up and get a good heron shot with a point-and-shoot camera.
Not my birds! These wild river heron are not nearly so accommodating. A distance of 200 yards is too close. I've stepped onto my deck and spooked birds wading so far up the river that it was only because I was looking through binoculars that I even knew anything had happened.
Today's heron was no exception—constantly on high alert for any hint of movement along the bank, among the bushes…even in the sky. Once a pair of flying mallards spooked the fishing heron, causing it to squawk and lift and fly a ways downstream, even after the zooming ducks passed it by off its port wingtip. An hour later, during a different stalk, I was flummoxed when one of the island's buzzards came sailing over the roost just after noon—again sending the heron into a squawking flap-off tizzy.
But I persisted—in both my desk work and my heron stalking—and eventually completed both. It isn't the best great blue heron shot I've ever taken…but it was the best one I managed today. And at least you now know I wasn't idle.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I spent several hours yesterday ambling along a path that runs parallel with the river—though seldom within sight of the water, and at times, quite a distance away. You can follow this trail for miles in either direction. Moreover, it links and crosses various bike paths and walkways, forming a network that could, conceivably, take you to every corner of the state…and beyond.
Not that I was nearly that ambitious. I doubt I covered much more than a mile during my three-hour outing. As I say—I ambled. Which means I wandered this way and that, enjoying the sunshine and changing season, looking at wildflowers and weeds, leaves and tress, squirrels, crows, and turkey vultures soaring effortlessly in a blue sky across which herds of puffy white clouds raced before a stiff, almost cold wind.
I wasn't looking for exercise, but renewal. After several weeks of floundering about, not quite depressed, but certainly burning low and finding it harder every day to drag myself up and out, I needed to regroup, to obtain both solace and spark.…
Autumn is taking over—that's for sure. Yet hereabouts, you still have to search for much in the way of leaf color. An occasional maple might have a branch or two with reddish-orange leaves. The woodbine is starting to turn scarlet. Now and then a squarish yellow poplar leaf lay beside the trail, or a big sycamore leaf—though most of these were still green with only a tracing of brown in their ribbing.
The brightest hues were still found in the wildflowers—asters and goldenrod, ironweed, daisies, thistle. Fading, perhaps, but nevertheless quite lovely.
Life and beauty are all transitory. To everything there is a season. The month is drawing to a close. Another autumn is taking center stage. The earth spins and follows its eternal pathway around the sun.
Some think of autumn as a time of bittersweet. They see a sadness beyond the beauty—a vision of winter and darkness to come. But I've never minded winter, never feared the cold and waning light. Because I believe in spring.
Yesterday I ambled along a quiet trail—wandering, wondering, looking for something to pull me up and carrying me through, to find a sorely-needed bit of magic…immersed amid the mystery and wonder of it all.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


There's always a bit of color to be found…
Even if autumn is only a few days old, according to the calendar, and arrived on a day which hit an unseasonably warm 82 degrees.
Even if, once the seasonal changeover was complete, it clouded up and cooled off almost immediately, as if on cue, began sprinkling a day after that, and continued sprinkling, off and on, for the next three days.
Even if it was still sprinkling when I woke up at 4:37 a.m. this morning, and through the opened bedroom window, could hear water pattering from the eaves as well as the steady, underlying hum of the river finding it way over and around rocks in the riffle a hundred feet beyond.
No doubt a bit of color could certainly be found…rain or not.
So I lay in bed until my usual getting-up time, listening to sounds of rain and river—then arose, made coffee and breakfast, and watched as a late and reluctant dawn eventually did its best to shed some light on the situation. Moon the dog went to the door and nose-bumped the small set of wind chimes which hang from the knob—her way of signaling to be let outside. I opened the door for her, took a moment to exchange coffee cup for a camera, and followed.
It was still sprinkling. Yet in spite of recent rains, the river was clear and low. The ducks were in the pool upstream from the cottage, heads underwater, tails pointed toward the thick, gray sky. What's a little rain to a duck? In the sycamores on the nearby island, I could see dark shapes amid the wet green leaves; the turkey vultures were still huddled on their roost, waiting for the rain to cease before flying off in search of the day's first meal.
Buzzards aren't big on rain…and neither is Moon the dog. She'll stay out in anything short of a downpour long enough to do whatever has to be done, but not a moment longer. Even if the rain is light. I'd have to be ready to towel her off and wipe her muddy paws if I didn't want a mess in the house. So if I wanted to find a quick fix of autumnal color, I had to hurry.
My first quick tour along the bank revealed nothing. The Virginia creeper was still green. A few leaves on the sycamores were brown, while only a handful on the box elder were an uninspiring rusty yellow. Not what I was looking for.
Moon had completed her duties. Now, head lowered, tail down, and ears stuck out, she was heading for the open front door. I whistled at her and she paused momentarily in her suffering to fix me with a withering look, which said…I know what you're trying to do and I'm not hanging around.
I threatened her. "Don't you dare step inside until I've cleaned you off."
She turned disdainfully and continued walking—but paused on the deck, rump aimed my way, having seemingly developed a sudden interest in staring at the river. A dog's way of saying…I'll give you a couple of minutes and stand here under the overhang out of the rain—but keep in mind the deck is wet, I can't sit down, and I'm not going to wait forever.
I hurriedly checked along the edge of the graveled drive. Ahh-h-h, just what I was looking for, what I knew had to be out here somewhere close—that bit of seasonal color. I made a quick photo. Then I looked up. Moon was nowhere to be seen .
Intimidation can only get you so far with a dog who knows you.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


The pinpoint of green in the driveway gravel stopped me in my tracks. I'd just rolled the trash toter up the hill to the roadside for the morning's pickup, and was on my way back down to the cottage when I thought I saw a tiny gleam.
At first I wondered whether it might have been a bit of glass or metal foil reflecting some light source. But what light? There'd been a thick cloud cover all day, and the low overcast had stayed around, wrapping the night in an extra-deep cloak of darkness. Any hint of moon or stars had been blotted out. I could barely make out the white areas of Moon the dog's fur from five feet away. A thick screen of leafy trees and brushy undergrowth blocked the back door's weak porch light from reaching the slope of the drive.
Had I simply imagined the green?
No, there it was again—though not quite where I thought it had been the first time. Then I saw another glimmer of green a few yards away…and a third, just the merest hint, coming from the grass bordering the drive. I thought then the light's maker had to be some sort of bioluminescent insect. Curious to know more, I retrieved a flashlight from the cottage and returned to the hillside.
Lightening bugs aren't the only insects around sporting bioluminescence—that ability to generate light by mixing chemicals in their body. While fireflies are beetles which belong to the family Lampyridae, another group of bioluminescent beetles belong to the family Phengodidae, the glow-worm beetles. I wanted to catch a specimen of whatever was giving me an emerald wink, have a close look, and maybe try and key the insect down to see what I'd found.
One thing for sure, whatever they were their gleam wasn't nearly as bright as the flash from a typical backyard lightening bug. Even given the intense darkness, you had to be within a few yards to see one emit its brief glow. Their light was soft and green—a green the shade of a fresh lime, or the tips of certain spruce needles in the spring. Plus the miniscule light was often partially obscured by a blade or grass or some other bit of debris. It took a minute or two to located a glow I could quick-follow to the source with the flashlight's bright beam.
Eventually I captured my prey—several, in fact. The creatures, while identical in appearance, did vary slightly in length—ranging from about 12mm to possibly 20mm. They were quite active and would crawl across the palm of my hand in a moment. I put them in an empty pill bottle and took them to the desk for further research.
I still don't know—at the specie level—exactly what I have, but I do know they are firefly larvae. They began life as an egg, deposited on or slightly below the surface of the ground, by the winged female adult a few days after mating; doubtless the offspring of a pair of those dancing lightening bugs that twinkled like fallen stars over the yard's lawn and bushes on summer evenings. Three or four weeks after laying, the eggs hatched into this larval stage.
Firefly larvae feed all summer and into the warmer weeks of autumn, before burrowing underground or beneath a bit of tree bark where they'll overwinter until spring. From what I've read, firefly larvae are predators, preying on small animals such as snails and slugs.
After making a few (not particularly good) photos, I returned the captured firefly larvae back to their chosen hunting territory and sent them on their way. Once my eyes had readjusted to the night, I stood for another quarter-hour, watching, as all around the brethren of my captured larvae turned their muted neon-green lamps on and off…tiny bioluminescence embers burning amid the rich darkness of the changing season.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Today is our first full dose of autumn. It has been cloudy and dim all day, even a bit on the foggy side this morning. Looking for all the world like it might rain any minute…though not so much as a sprinkle has fallen thus far. Still the grass is damp, as are the stones around the cottage and the boards of the deck which overlooks the river. Leaves on the sycamore gleam with moisture. Except for all the the green trees and grass, it might visually fool you into equating things with a dreary day in early winter
Which probably explains why, upon his first glance outside, a certain fellow momentarily thought of putting together a pot of jalapeno-laced chili on the stove, and later stirring up a pone of spicy Tex-Mex cornbread. Of course, when our astute fellow stepped onto his deck and found the temperature to be a muggy 79-degrees, he wisely reconsidered his meal plans.
Birds are busy at the feeders—chickadees, titmice, lots of goldfinches, a few house finches, sparrows, a blue jay, cardinals (yes, that near-bald bird is growing feathers) and a half-dozen others. Herds of doves have been marching to and fro across the yard. The hummingbirds are squabbling like tired-out six-year-olds at recess. I keep expecting them to disappear for their wintering grounds any day now…but so far at least four or five continue hanging around. I was awakened at dawn by a pair of Carolina wrens trying to outsing one another.
I did have a fat fox squirrel in the side yard near the cottage this morning, the first I've ever seen on this side of the river. Squirrels are strict segregationists hereabouts—grays on this side of the stream, fox squirrels on the island across from the cottage. The twain does not intermix.
There are also a few pine or red squirrels zooming around over here from time to time, and I sometimes also see them on the island. I would claim these pineys were perhaps trying to bring peace to the warring tribes of fox and gray…except if you know anything about red squirrels, you know they're pint-sized troublemakers and equal opportunity provocateurs.
Squirrels can swim well enough if they want to to make it across the channel between the island and this shore. Too, given the river's current low-water state, an agile fox squirrel could probably hop and leap from rock-to-rock across the riffle and never get his paws wet. But I expect this heretofore unprecedented visit came about because of the tree which fell across the river a month or so back [here] and created a made-to-order fox squirrel bridge. That's the direction he headed when Moon the dog startled him with her through-the-window-screen barks.
All in all, today didn't appear much different than yesterday, or the day before; and tomorrow is apt to look pretty much the same. But it feels different somehow, though maybe that's mostly the power of suggestion and a bit of wishful thinking. Still, a view up the river sees a less vibrant green, a bit of yellowing, a few small patches of tan in the tops of the sycamores, and even a curl of crimson woodbine among the shadows.
Autumn is here in name, and it's beginning to arrive in fact. The times they are a'changin'.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


We have reached another equinox—the instant at which the center of the sun crosses declination, or the celestial equator. Though it was not always the case, we moderns now employ equinoxes (along with solstices) as our dividing lines between seasons. That means summer is over today…or will be at 5:19 p.m. EDT hereabouts, which—according to the almanac—is also the moment when autumn officially begins.

You often hear folks say an equinox is when days and nights are of equal length. Twelve hours of daylight, twelve hours of darkness. Sorry to disappoint, but this is just not the case. You’ll have to wait several more days for that balance to occur.

In spite of what you’ve likely been told, day and night are never the same length on an equinox anymore. There are several reasons for this imbalance. While the refraction of sunlight as it passes through the earth’s atmosphere has some effect, the main culprit which created the rift stems from the way sunrises and sunsets are currently pinpointed—along with the way we calculate an equinox.

The one-time fact is now just a quaint fantasy. The truth is, on an equinox, the days are always a bit longer than the nights. The original etymology of the word “equinox” is no longer valid.

Not that it matters in any meaningful way—seasons are just words we use to generalize our location along the great circular route of that annual journey we call a year.

Is today’s equinox day identical to last year’s or the one before that? Will next year’s equinox be the same?

Of course not. No two years, no two days, no two moments are ever exactly alike. Each and every second since time began has been unique…and therefore precious.

An hour ago I stood at the edge of the river and watched a handful of leaves being carried along on the slow current. A few weeks ago you rarely saw a leaf on the water, but each day now their number visibly increases. Three weeks hence the water’s surface will be carpeted by multicolored leaves from countless trees upstream.

There’s something satisfyingly eternal about seeing leaves float down a September stream. Observing their passage somehow welcomes me into time’s continuum.

I quite aware my own days on this earth are limited. Yet I can’t believe I’m the first man to stand on the banks of this lovely sycamore-lined stream and mark a new autumn by noting the leaves already slipping downstream. And I hope I’m not the last—that those who come after will treat this fine old river with love and respect…and will also find solace in greeting the season with a pause to watch leaves.

Friday, September 18, 2009


This morning served up one of those astonishing cusp-of-autumn treats you wish you could store in a bottle and pour out some dreary winter afternoon when you needed a bit of cheering up.

On the deck, I slid the rocking chair to the end overlooking the river, where I could sit with my feet up on the bench and savor a third cup of coffee while better taking in the view.

The sky was brilliant and clear, of a shade somewhere between azure and cobalt. A turkey vulture came floating above the tops of the trees and began spiraling upwards over the river—a wheeling silhouette amid the luminous sea of blue.

What I wouldn’t give to be able to ride the rising thermals high into the sky like that old buzzard…

The deck was in shadows, cool and still damp from the night’s dew. Moon, a most sensible dog, found herself a pool of sunshine on the gravel driveway in which to stretch out and warm her aging bones. My aging bones could have used their own bit of heat treating—especially since I spent most of yesterday afternoon planting bushes and perennials around the yard.

Hereabouts, digging even a modest hole often entails—besides the usual shovel—a heavy-duty crowbar, a pix-axe, mattock, hours of time, mulish patience, a willingness to sweat, a handy vocabulary of imprecations, a reckless disregard for blisters and personal bloodshed…plus the sense and willingness to admit defeat when nothing short of a stick of dynamite is going to get you another inch into the rock-filled earth.

You don’t so much dig as you chip and scrap and curse your way to victory.

Autumn color is not yet much in evidence here along the river—though the sycamores have a few gold-brown leaves scattered among the green, and the hackberries are showing a bit of pale yellow.

A few weeds here and there exhibit a spot of russet, and bit of burgundy, a dab of crimson.
There are purple-black poke berries hanging from magenta stems…
…while in the yard, several of the tall, weedy-looking marigolds are particularly fetching in a rich, glowing yellow, as if they were somehow able to capture a bit of the sun.
Closer to where I sat, a trio of fungi, as gray-white as old bones, had poked up through the leaves and mulch near the cottage—mysterious, other-worldly; disturbingly beautiful.
Goldfinches, titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches were in constant motion to and from the seed feeders. Hummingbirds were busy sipping nectar and I wonder how much longer they’ll hang around. With nights dipping into the 40s, surely they’ll be winging south any day now.
In a sunny patch of grass a spider had built a web and was waiting for something tasty to come along.

I hoped it wasn’t the big army-green grasshopper who kept eyeing me from atop a fallen leaf where he sat, lethargic in the coolness, waiting for the temperature to rise and get him charged and going.

You don't get many mornings such as this in a given year. Certainly not near enough. So I dawdled as long as I could, nursing my coffee, rocking, listening to the river…and thinking how much I love these transition days, when the seasons are on the move and the world around is responding, changing, getting ready.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Beauty is only skin deep…or in some cases, feather deep. At least if you’re a male cardinal caught in the embarrassing throes of an unusual molt.

The goofy-looking redbird, which could almost have been mistaken for a scarlet-plumed pigmy vulture, appeared at the feeder outside my study window yesterday morning. The light was low, but I didn’t figure I had time to change settings on the camera or grab a tripod—so I snapped a quick shot and hoped for the best. The result isn’t the best of photos, but it’s certainly sufficient to reveal the usually handsome and cocky cardinal at his decidedly unflattering worst.

I actually felt rather bad about making his portrait. Like I’d become a member of the paparazzi who lurks outside the doors of fancy hotels or gated mansions in the Hollywood Hills, shooting pictures for the tabloids of movie stars when they’re overweight, without makeup—or in the case of more than a few men—lack the masculine mental-reenforcing enhancement of a toupee.

Had I joined the ornithological version of the gutter press?

This cardinal definitely got caught away from the thicket without his hairpiece…er-r-r, featherpiece. And since the single most defining feature of a cardinal—male or female—is their crest, I can see where such a loss might lead to temporary insecurity issues. The bird did seem extra jumpy, looking nervously around before snatching a sunflower seed; and maybe, too, a little angry, put upon, as if life had treated this poor old redbird unfairly.

Well, maybe he had a point.

According to June Osborn, in her book The CardniaI, published by the University of Texas press, such a complete loss of feathers over a single area is not the norm. Usually cardinals molt via a gradual process—a few feathers from here, others from there, leaving enough plumage for protection and the power of flight.

Of course a bald pate wasn’t going to prevent this fellow from flying…but such a thorough, single-area loss was not how the change to new feathers is typically made. For a proud bird, it had to be awkward if not humiliating. I had to sympathize.

The good part is that the loss will be temporary; give it another week or two and that red-coated fellow can strut his stuff in brand new attire.

But just remember, the bad part is…I do have the picture.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Saturday morning along the river. On the hill above the cottage, the rising sun is climbing through my neighbor’s towering sycamore. The air is cool and damp, sweet.

Moon the dog and I amble up the drive to the road so I can look in the mailbox, because I can’t remember checking it last evening. Nope, nothing inside. Which still doesn’t tell me whether I retrieved whatever there was yesterday, or forgot and the box is empty simply because nothing was delivered.

Either way, I’m probably losing my mind.

The grass wears a silver sheen of dew. It is still a deep, luscious green. Here and there tiny water droplets sparkle like diamonds on velvet.

In a shadowy corner along the fenceline, a few tattered leaves hang suspended in a bit of sun, illuminated as if by a spotlight. Without the dramatic lighting those leaves wouldn’t merit a second glance. And yet now, momentarily, they’re quite captivating—made special by the light.

Isn’t that so often the case with us? Aren’t we all sometimes uplifted, transformed, made special by a certain setting and the power of an outside source? Love, for example—when it is good—brightens and inspires, raises us up, restores, empowers.

We can all always become so much more than the plain old mundane us when transfigured by an outside light.

Back at the cottage, I stand on the bank and watch the river’s moving mirrored surface scatter and swirl the pinkish morning sunlight. I never tire of seeing the interplay of light and current.

Moving water has always captivated me in a way that water stilled never manages. Not that a lake or pond can’t be astonishingly lovely. But they don’t speak to me the way moving water does; streams are alive, fellow travelers. Creeks and rivers, brooks and rills seem possessed of their own restless spirit…a feeling I know well.

Seasonal change is afoot here along the river—though there’s not yet much to see other than a few clumps of yellow-brown leaves distributed here and there amongst the otherwise still-green foliage of the sycamores.

The tiny quick hummingbirds are still hanging around. I keep expecting them to vanish any day—and they will, eventually, when whatever embedded bit of ruby-throat wisdom stirs and whispers its annual message—informing them the time to head south has arrived.

Not, however, on this sunny, blue-sky Saturday morning. The only thing moving onward today is the river….

Thursday, September 10, 2009


"…a sort of reflection-of-a-reflection shot."
When twilight comes and light begins to fade, the world along the riverbank seems to pause and grows still, almost silent, as if holding its breath in anticipation. A brief interlude not unlike that experienced in a theater after the orchestra has finished tuning, the house lights have been dimmed, and you sit in the great dark room amid the muted shifting and stirring of the surrounding audience…waiting for the curtain to be raised.

For me, this is a magical period, a time when it no longer seems prudent to believe only in those things which can be quantified and explained. Textbooks and peer-reviewed papers can never deal adequately with twilight.

At twilight, land and water and sky are charged with ancient mystery. Reality shifts. Secrets lurk in the darkening shadows. Things best accommodated by old knowledge—tales told round a fire by gray-bearded elders, stories passed via careful whispers in pine-fragrant glens.

Anything is possible…

A few nights ago I was sitting on the bench overlooking the river. The sunset had not been spectacular, merely a dwindling of the light in the west. Moments earlier, I had managed a photo of the vanquished sun’s final orange gleam as the fiery light bounced off the high crown of a big, white-barked sycamore upstream to be mirrored in the pool below. A sort of reflection-of-a-reflection shot.

Now the sky was the color of old pewter, barely distinguishable above the island’s treeline. The swallows were long gone and the earliest-feeding bats were already fluttering about. That’s when twilight favored me with a rare gift and I saw the nighthawks.

Migrating nighthawks are one of the quintessential last-of-summer sights in Ohio as they head for winter quarters in South America. Over-flights of birds typically begin passing through anywhere from the last week in August to the first few days of September. Late afternoon and twilight is their preferred travel time—or at least the time I generally spot them sailing along overhead.

The flight I observed the other evening was by far the largest I’ve ever witnessed. First there was a single nighthawk…then two. Then a handful, perhaps a dozen scattered loosely, then five or six, ten, four, a single…fifteen! Group after group they came, an unhurried, steady progression that might have revealed two or three dozen birds total at any one time.

A hundred nighthawks crossed overhead. Then two hundred. And still the birds kept appearing from the northwest, heading southeast. Twos, threes, a half-dozen. I was now straining to see them in the gathering darkness, missing many, losing track of others before I could make out their count.

How many were there? I honestly don’t know—but certainly several hundred. A thousand or more was equally possible.

Unlike a traveling skein of geese, the nighthawks were totally silent. And yet, long after it became too dark to see anything, I believe those migrating nighthawks were still passing above me—I seemed to feel their moving presence up there in the ebony sky.

Wishful thinking? Fantasy? Perhaps.

Or just maybe time spent savoring September’s twilight had reawakened some atavistic sense. All I know is that after a while I felt—no, I knew—the sky was empty…that my once-in-a-lifetime flight of nighthawks had gone.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


A few months after moving into this streamside cottage, I was sitting on the narrow deck which spans the width of the building and overlooks the big riffle and pool below. I’d already come to think of this end as the front of the house, and the river immediately beyond as the best part of my yard.

The midday sun was bright and warm, the high September sky a soft Dresden blue reminiscent of my grandmother’s eyes. Looking across the narrow channel to the trees on the island, it was plain to see that summer had run it course and autumn was already remaking the landscape. Here and there I noted the first brush strokes of lemon yellow on the sycamore leaves, and a singular scarlet flame in the twining Virginia creeper.

I felt uncommonly at ease. No lord of any stately manor ever stood upon a high terrace and viewed his sprawling estate below with greater pleasure. Not for the first time, I thought how love so often awakens in us the desire to live a long life. Whether it’s love of a person or a place, something stirs inside and we suddenly wish for endless time to enjoy, ample opportunity to savor that which fills our heart to overflowing with wonder and contentment.

Please, God, we beg…please, please, please lengthen our allotted span that we might know completely this generous blessing.

That’s how I felt upon moving here—and what I was thinking about that glorious day on the cusp of the seasonal change four years ago; cognizant, too, that time flows ever onward, like the water purling over rifflestones in my beloved river, aware that’s it only through grace that next year, next week, or even the next minute becomes ours to claim.

Perhaps it was these bittersweet musings that caused me a certain confusion when the first bird swooped quickly across the stream, dipping low over the pool, then rose, spun in midair, made a second pass back across the pool and returned to land in a hackberry leaning over the channel.

Hey—what was that bird? Not a swift, swallow, or martin. Flycatcher? Nahhh. And why did it look so familiar?

Another bird made a fast, twisting series of passes over the pool, was joined by a second, and then there were three or four zipping and diving like midday bats above the water. As they flew they revealed flashes of bright cadmium yellow on their tails, as if the tips had been dipped in paint. Sometimes I fancied I could spot a bit of red on the wings.

The feeding birds were taking pale, rather large mayflies which I could occasionally see coming off the water. I’ve watched other birds—mostly swifts and swallows—do this along trout streams all over the country.

Finally, a bird alighted on a limb tip less than a dozen feet from where I sat—and the brief pause apparently allowed my brain time to kick into gear: cedar waxwing!

Gezze…no wonder they looked familiar! I’ve seen cedar waxwings feeding all my life—except they’d usually been feeding on fruits or berries. Moreover, they were typically in the brushy borders adjacent to fields and meadows—noisily, cheerfully, eating whatever they could find.

I simply hadn’t expected to see them acting like flycatchers over a river. Then I remembered how I’d once watched a bunch of hungry cedar waxwings save a neighbor’s apple crop.

A plague of canker worms had begun devouring the leaves on the dozen old apple trees in his back yard. Suddenly one morning, like a phalanx of caped superheros in a comic book, a flock of cedar waxwings came flying in to the rescue.

Over the course of two or three days, the birds—perhaps thirty total—decimated the canker worm population. In short order it went from several worms on each and every limb to virtually zero. In fact, if even a single canker worm survived their onslaught, my neighbor and I couldn’t find it during an hour of searching afterwards.

Of course, most of the time cedar waxwings do eat various berries and fruits, including the glaucous blue berries of their namesake red cedar. Sometime to the point of apparent gluttony. Numerous sources report finding waxwings on the ground underneath a fruit or berry tree, having so overindulged they simply fell off the limb—helpless, unable to fly, stomachs and throats stuffed with berries…and still holding even more berries in their mouths and beaks, waiting for room to swallow!

It stands to reason that birds sporting such voracious appetites would get all giddy about a steady mayfly hatch. And a bit of research confirmed this behavior as common; most accounts of cedar waxwings mention their occasional flycatcher-like behavior—especially when feeding on water-born insects.

What I’d observed was nothing new…just new to me.

Still, it was one of the things I learned when I began living beside the river. And every year since, I look forward to these transition days, when summer fades and autumn starts to brighten the woods on the island with dabs of color—because I know the mayflies will be hatching and the cedar waxwings will be around to swoop and dive over the pool, twisting and turning, delighting me with their aerial antics.