Signs of fall: departure: seeding of warm-season grasses: the yellow spear-heads of Indiangrass, the color shift of the seedheads of Big Bluestem, the graceful dangling seeds of sideoats grama, the rich purple and silver of Eryngo, the spikes of gayfeather suddenly showing up, with faint color before they open to their own shade of purple, Maximilian sunflowers shooting up much taller (no flowers yet, but there will be), other grasses browning off, grape leaves covered in spots of ashy fungus (grapes have long been consumed by now) and curling at the edges, occasional bright red leaves of poison ivy and Virginia creeper.
Departure of some summer-only bird species…migration heading south. Today, a brilliant yellow and black male goldfinch in the back yard–haven’t seen one here in breeding plumage before, so an early migrant. We have them in their sober winter colors, and they start molting to their spring finery just before they leave…usually patches of bright yellow on the winter brown. The yellow-billed cuckoo is gone (left a week or more ago). Morning bird voices are less, but will pick up again as the winter-resident sparrows arrive, and the robins, and others. Sandhill cranes, occasional Whoopers, some years the geese and ducks fly over us and some years they sail on by without calling or being seen.
And spiders. From sometime in August (it varies with weather) until the first frost, trails are barriered by the big yellow and black Argiope orb-weavers. Things fly down the trails, right into their webs. I walk down the trails, trying not to walk into them (they often hang out on the web about face-height, and I do not like finding a startled and frantic palm of hand sized spider on my face and glasses, eager to escape.) Normally I carry my bamboo pole, and swing it up and down along the trail to dislodge these large ladies. But today, I was on another mission, to measure the trails with my latest expense: a distance measuring wheel with a circumference of three feet, a movable kickstand, and a readout of feet traveled. It’s not designed for swinging up and down, and even if it were, it can’t both swing while I walk and do its counting. I was walking the West Grass Loop, and found that–with a side trip to Fox Pavilion to check the water level (fine, and trembling from the wings and tongues of quite a few bees, though not as many as yesterday evening. The West Grass Loop, including that side trip, is about 1.2 miles long.
Why a measuring wheel, you might ask. Because most of our trails were made by cattle when this was an overgrazed pasture, so they mostly aren’t straight, which makes them more fun to walk, in our opinion. Straight lines are for developers, not for us (except the fences.) So measuring tapes or ropes just won’t do the trick, but the measuring wheel handles curves, turns, ups and downs (ours are gentle) , and surface that includes solid rock, gravel, dirt, rocky dirt, grass clumps on dirt, and mown grass. The 1100+ foot stretch on the north fenceline, from creekbank to the dry woods, is a steady gentle, but noticeable, climb if you’re going east.
I got my measuring wheel from Allen Precision, whose online catalog has everything from old-tech machetes (and measuring wheels) to the latest in surveying equipment in which the words “electronic,” “bluetooth,” “modem,” and “robotic” appear frequently along with brand names: Leica geosystems, Nikon, Geomax, and Spectrum….and there’s not a plain old theodolite in the bunch. That I found, in a hurried look anyway. Theodolites I understandMarking flags, marking paints in multiple colors, a wheel with a handle like mine modified to hold the special marking paints upside down so you can paint a line on a road (or, I suppose, a trail), tripods, etc, etc, etc. Also, the sales person I talked to on the phone was a) a real human and b) talked to me as if I were too, when I asked for advice on *which* (of pages of them) measuring wheel would be good for my purposes. And the wheel arrived Thursday, a day earlier than it was promised. I may have WriterBrain not EngineerBrain like my mother, but I was raised around engineer stuff and I like engineer stuff. It DOES stuff. Later I’ll add a picture of my measuring wheel to this post, maybe this afternoon, but it’s nap-time now.
It’s still summer-hot, Texas August summer-hot, but this morning, walking down to the creek woods, the air was actually COOL until the sun got up enough I wasn’t in shade anymore.