I always somehow think that when I go to the farm in September, Fall will have arrived. But no, last week there were temperatures in the low 90s and a fair dose of humidity. It seemed more like July. But no matter, things had to be done.
At the top of the list was realigning a long run of guttering on the farmhouse. A year ago I installed guttering so it all drained one direction, into one downspout. But it’s a pretty big roof and there was just too much water. So last week I raised the guttering in the middle of the run, and added a downspout at the other end. So now, just like the Rocky Mountains, water that falls on half of the roof goes east, and water that falls on the other half goes west. It still all flows into Doyle Creek and then the Cottonwood River and eventually into the Mississippi, just like it always has. So I only altered a very small part of the earth, but isn’t that the way life is? We always hope to make a bigger impact, but have to settle for a smaller one.
I kept seeing snakes this trip. There were a couple gopher or rat snakes, the kind that eat mice and rats, in the farmyard, and I’m all for that. I admired them and let them be. They were moving slowly, probably thinking about burrowing in for the winter. Then when I opened the cellar door to check on my cans of paint which I store down there (because it’s the only place that doesn’t freeze), at the bottom of the stairs was a loooong black snake. There was no way around him, and since I didn’t like the idea of stepping over him, I quietly closed the trap door and let him be. I’m hoping that the next time I open that door he’ll have gone off someplace else. He looked like he’d had a good number of mice in his lifetime and so I’m happy to have him around too, just not underfoot.
This business of cohabitating with snakes doesn’t come natural to me. My father killed every snake he saw, if he could. I grew out of that, but even today a snake sets off some sort of primal alarm. Even though I know that most any snake I would come across out there would rather flee than fight, I just know I’m going to come across the one that’s had a bad day and is out to get me. They’re not so bad when they’re calmly undulating across a field. But when they coil up in a defensive posture or I come up on one unexpectedly and it scrambles to get away, like when I pull the lid off the well house, then something repellant stirs inside me, with all that coiling and slithering. It’s that up close encounter that does it. Maybe it’s biblical. Give me some space. And give some to the snakes.
I’d rather talk about butterflies. I saw more Monarchs last week than I’d seen in years. It was gratifying to look up from my guttering and see one or two floating above the house and then a few minutes later see another, and another. There were always a few in the zinnia patch. It gives one hope. I have very fond memories of the September Monarch migration out there on the farm during my childhood. This was nothing like that, but there were more Monarchs than I expected to see. Gotta plant more milkweed.
There were no birds to speak of last week. Most had migrated. I did see two flocks of migrating blue jays. Not all blue jays migrate and even the ones that do, may not do it the following year, according to what I read. But if they do it, they do it in large flocks. Even more interesting, jays are nearly silent in migration, as opposed to the racket they create the rest of the year. I guess if you’re not looking for a mate or defending territory, there’s no point in posturing. There were a few other birds – an occasional turkey vulture, sparrows, and the pigeons that live in the machine shed. But the orioles that entertained all summer were gone, as well as the wrens and the mockingbirds and the peewees.
I took another Dutch door off the barn to take home and rebuild. My father built this door in 1950. I sprayed some poison ivy and I measured the house roof so I can calculate how much it might cost to reroof it. I also attended a couple of small-town football games which featured people I’m fond of. And I made a list for the next trip to the farm. There will always be a next time. And more work to do. And next time it’ll be cooler.