What's Tony Thinking

Autumn Is In the Air


It’s a gorgeous day here in the Wallowa Mountains. Sunny and warm, but not too warm. Temperature of about 70, which raises the question: to swim or not to swim in the Lake? I will probably opt in as the forecast for days ahead says cooler and maybe rain.

Autumn is in the air. What is it that gives a person that feeling? Cooler temperatures, yes. But not only that. The light changes. Sun is rising later, setting earlier. And the sun’s rays come more angled, glancing. The light seems gentler and in a way playful. Not the full-on, direct light of high summer.

There are other signs of autumn. Some red and yellow color beginning to show on the vine maple and other lowland forest shrubs.

The bird population has changed. At the height of bird activity we had a lot of Grosbeaks, of various types, Western Tanagers, a new brood of California Quail, Rufus Hummingbirds and then the resident Jays and Woodpeckers, both Downy and Pileated. It appears that the Grosbeaks, Tanagers and Hummingbirds have started their migration south.

The ground squirrels, we call them “Golden Mantles” and “Red Diggers” have already gone to ground, a.k.a. “hibernated” for the winter. Imagine nine months curled up under ground! Meanwhile, the Pine Squirrels are super busy harvesting the falling pine and fir cones. One little guy makes a couple dozen trips a day through our patio to pick up cones that bounce off the roof next door, then he scurries back and takes them into his underground storeroom.

And the Kokanee Salmon are spawning in the Wallowa River. They are even a brighter orange than the vine maple! Another sure sign of fall.

I’ve been busy with my trees. Preparing the newer and smaller trees and shrubs to survive the winter and the browsing of the deer. I used to ask the guy at the nursery, “Will the deer bother this (shrub or tree)?” He answered, “Is it green?” The other day a buck came onto the patio and ate up all the flowers Linda had in a pot. That’s done!

This time of year I fertilize, trim and thin my 80 to 100 trees. I planted a little Ponderosa Pine the other day with grandson, Levi. Then I pointed out some huge, mature ones. “When you’re the age I am now, your little tree will be as big as that one.” Then today I found another Ponderosa Pine of about the same size, a volunteer in one of my stands of trees. The Ponderosas have this wonderful vanilla smell if you get your nose up close to their bark.

Lots of fawns around in the last month, with their mothers. Watching them poke at Mom’s underside to get her milk to let down, they are anything but gentle. Motherhood, animal or human, is not for the faint of heart. Before long it will be hunting season. As it draws closer the deer tend to come down into the farm fields in the valley. Partly they are feeding on the left-overs, but also getting on safe “NO HUNTING” turf. Elk season will start up in October. Of course, people out here eat what they hunt.

Labor Day weekend coming up. The official last hurrah of summer. Some of the schools have already started here, others will next week. There will probably be quite a few folks around at the rental cabins nearby. That’s a new development in the last thirty years or so. Privately-owned cabins becoming rentals with AirBnB, VRBO, VaCasa. Driven by the internet. In the last 15 years a lot of the places have been built just for this vacation rental market. Meanwhile, there is a “workforce housing shortage.”

We’ve had an unusual amount of rain for August, pushing toward 2″. So things are greened up again and fire danger is down. We did have one small fire in the area a week or so ago. A “Prepare to Evacuate” alert came over the phones, but helicopters dumping water from the Lake put it out quickly. We’ve been fortunate.



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