just wandering on a beautiful fall day

Bill and I try to take the dogs for a walk every day. Yesterday started out cold, but warmed to 55 degrees by 10 o’clock. I particularly relish these mild November days because I know colder days are just around the corner.

With all the wildflowers now gone, the landscape is dominated by late autumn shades of brown and tan. I love the fall and I find these muted earth tones to be beautiful and inspirational. Even as she prepares to sleep, Nature is elegant.

Looking out across the fields, little bluestem, a native warm-season grass, is going to seed. Its abundant seed stems will provide forage for many songbirds throughout the winter. Below, milkweed pods have opened, revealing whimsical, silky tufts of seeds that will ride the wind to recolonize an area away from the mother plant.

With summer and the miraculous season of pollination behind us, the once-yellow, wand-like clusters of goldenrod are now beige tufts, waiting for the wind to help sow their seeds for next year’s crop.

I found a great website that shows the incredible ways that seeds are dispersed by the wind: http://theseedsite.co.uk/sdwind.html The shapes and sizes of seedpods, which are as diverse as the seeds inside them, have to do with how far the seeds are transported.

I’m not sure what flower produces these clumps of rounded seedheads (bergamot?), but they would make a nice addition to a dried flower arrangement! Hmmm, gives me an idea….

Along the way, we spotted a cocoon and this is one of those times I wish I had a biologist along with me to tell me what insect constructed it. I could have opened it to have a look, but something makes me hesitate to tamper with even the simplest and most ubiquitous of nature’s handiwork.

In a perfect ending to a perfect walk (at least from a retriever’s perspective), our yellow lab Autumn decided to go for a swim in our neighbor’s pond. She spotted a decoy floating in the middle of the pond and, true to her breed, couldn’t resist going in to retrieve it.

We took a longer walk than usual, trying to take in every minute of this gorgeous fall day. I know there are those who love winter and can’t get enough of the white stuff, but I’m not one of those people. Truth be known, I wouldn’t mind a whole winter just like today.

seedheads in the meadow

The brilliant fall foliage for which the Blue Ridge is so well-known has run its course, but Nature, which never has an off season, has not been idle. In accordance with her plan, summer’s fading wildflowers have been transformed into a botanical realm of pods, papery seedcases, cones, and burrs dancing in the wind. The seeds will eventually find their way into the ground where they will germinate at the appropriate time, continuing the circle of life.

The clustered seeds of burdock provide food for many birds, as well as other animals including voles and mice.

These seedheads are fascinating, but I’m not sure of the plant species. Any ideas?

This weed, also unidentified, grew in a pile of topsoil – look out for those spikes!

The silky seed tufts of common milkweed rely on the wind to carry the seeds far from the host plant.

Monarda (the round seed heads), shown here mixed in with little bluestem and other native grasses, is a winter food source for birds and other wild critters.

These species, found in our meadow, represent only a few of the tremendous variety of seed heads that lend color, texture, and design to the fall landscape, while also providing a valuable winter food source for wildlife. Beauty abounds in every season – and I’ll be supplying pictures all along the way!

wild meadows

My husband and I decided when we purchased our farm that we would discontinue mowing the fields, which for the last few years had been mowed for hay. These now fallow fields, green in the spring and golden in the fall, are slowly being reclaimed by nature. Once plentiful native grasses and wildflowers are re-emerging to provide a source of food for deer and other browsers, seed for birds, nectar for pollinators, and places for wildlife of all kinds to find shade, nest, and hide from predators.

Native grasses like little bluestem are coming back

Looking across the fields, we watch the seasonal sequence of green shoots emerging, wildflowers blooming, monarchs and swallowtails nectaring, sparrows singing from atop grass stems, and bees gathering pollen to take back to their hives. At sunset, they become swallowfields as white-breasted tree swallows make low sweeps back and forth, plucking insects from the air, and after dark, they are the mating grounds of the fireflies.

Visiting tiger swallowtail

After four years of no mowing, native grasses are better able to compete with non-native species. We’re seeing an increase in such natives as Eastern gamagrass, Indian grass, and little bluestem. We’re also seeing more blackberry brambles than ever before, and more wildflowers, including some species we haven’t seen before such as butterweed, goatsbeard, and butterfly weed.

Oxeye daisies dominate portions of the fields

We mow a small area around the house and outbuildings and along the edges of the lane, but leave the remaining woods and fields to the deft hand of Mother Nature. There was a time when I liked an orderly, weed-free lawn, but now I see a tangle of weeds as a sanctuary for crickets and toads, a stand of thistle as a feast for goldfinches, and a tall reed as a singing platform for a sparrow. Beauty is, indeed, in the eyes of the beholder.

In upland mowings now no longer mowed, the banished weed again lifts high its head, ennobled by some quaint ancestral name.  Benjamin T. Richards