Copyright: Karl Meyer 

August 2, 2007

Colrain, MA.  We have entered the dog days.  I realized this upon heading out for a walk at 6:30 this morning.  It is mostly silent, mostly clear, and definitely going to be hot by mid-morning.  Predictions are for 95 degrees.  As I walk along a quiet secondary road between farmhouses and pasture I think that there is likely no more apt description than “dog days.”  It just fits.  It captures those humid, listless, pre-harvest weeks like no other term.  Others that do justice to similar venues in time and space are horse latitudes, and “the doldrums.”  Whoever came up with these had a descriptive gift—even as they lay there, dripping in sweat, launching groggy, adjectives above the rim of a gin and tonic.

The air here was actually sweet at that early hour.  The sun was peeking vaguely from behind mountain and mist.  And, though most bird song has gone quiet as parents and young gobble up a summer’s insects, a few tuneful exceptions are noteworthy.  Song sparrows are still piping away—likely they’re working on second broods.  And a yellow warbler tossed its voice from a bush.  This was probably a young one just trying out its lungs. 

But most-busy right now are the indigo buntings, which will raise a second family before heading south.  They are brilliantly both deep and bright blue, all at once—the sun or shadow making the difference in their outward flash.  The other late nesters here are the goldfinches, who will be with us through the cold of winter.  The bouncy songs of these last two species intersect closely; and yesterday I saw a brief territorial fight and retreat between an indigo bunting and a goldfinch in a grass patch.  It was wondrous to see that bold yellow and flashy blue interacting.  Who knew they even paid attention to each other?

Mid-summer is also a culling time for wildlife.  There is a small roll-call of dead on my route these last few days.  It’s not gory, just unfortunate.  The sun quickly desiccates what might otherwise be messy.  That tally has included a rose-breasted grosbeak (male), a bluish-green garter snake, a little brown bat, a shriveled red eft, and a chipping sparrow.  The sparrow was new this morning.  Another was hovering near so I took a stick and moved it off the roadway so that bit of bird mourning could possibly continue without another fatal bump from a car.

That little brown bat—all 2-1/2 inches of it, was something I moved off the pavement too.  It wasn’t particularly mangled, just a neat lump of velvety, light brown fur, bat bones and wing.  I just didn’t want to see it get smooshed, so I took a stick and moved it to the shoulder.  This was purely to satisfy my personal aesthetic.  What was curious was that when I pushed it along with the stick its vestigial thumb-nail was what caught and held it, so it could be moved.  It’s called the calcar, and they use it—not for hanging, but when positioning themselves to hang, or during those instances when they have to climb along limbs.  I know bats need to be upright while giving birth, so the calcar is probably employed during this time too.  The bones in a bat’s leathery wing are just one long, skinny, ghoulish, delicate, hand.  Bats are in the order Chiroptera—which translates from Latin as “flying hand.”

All in all I was lucky to get out for a cool, quiet morning walk.  There was one farmer out, set off against a hillside as he made his way up in a white tee-shirt to cull some wood with a chainsaw.  The local bloodhound breathed heavy from a farmhouse window near the road.  She’s used to me and didn’t bark as I passed.  I think we might be friends under other circumstances.  But when she’s out, she’s controlled by an unseen electric fence.  I talk to her across that covert fence when she’s loose, and she makes hunting-dog faints at me, and charges along her invisible fence-line.  Mostly though, I can see her stubby tail wagging.

The turnaround point of the walk came toward Fort Morrison farm.  I could hear the fans humming in the milking barn.  A couple of dozen cows were lowing deeply, waiting to unburden themselves.  The sun was just eating away the center of the early mist when I made my way back to Colrain Center.  A milk truck hurried by.