Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Signs that the seasons are changing

By CHERYL KIMBALL August 31. 2018 11:27PM

An Indian pipe stands out against a backdrop of brown leaves and twigs. (Courtesy/Cheryl Kimball)

Things are changing. It’s a little bit hard to tell since as I write this we are being forewarned of another short run of high temperatures accompanied by high humidity. The real tip-off was when I stopped at Lowe’s the other day and saw that the sidewalk display had transformed from lawn mowers to snow blowers. There was barely a fan left except for expensive “retro-style” metal ones. And the string trimmer display was starting to move on to leaf blowers. After this quite hot and humid summer I have begun to think that maybe I don’t dislike winter as much as I have always thought I do — bring it on.

Nature is showing new colors as well. While driving to pick up some hay the other day I saw several maple trees that had started to fade from deep green to a light shade of orange. These were big, healthy sugar maples not “swamp maples” which, I always have to remind myself, give up on summer very early. A few Facebook posts have shown pictures of random bright red fallen leaves. Let’s just hope we don’t skip autumn and go from summer immediately into winter like we often do here in New England in the late winter when summer arrives like someone forgot to flip the switch for spring.

Walks in the woods are pleasant again. Although every couple weeks a new and voracious crop of mosquitoes follows me, the deer flies are completely gone. Atypically, though, the woods are still damp. Mushrooms, about which so many articles have been written of late, are having a heyday. I almost trip over mushrooms the size of salad plates growing all over our woods road. Some seem to have absorbed so much water they just spontaneously disintegrate into slimy, slippery splotches on the ground.

Although there are so many different kinds of mushrooms in the woods right now that some of them must be good eating, I am not inclined to forage for mushrooms. Nature in general is good at using mimicry for survival, and mushrooms are among nature’s mimic experts. Mushrooms that are edible mimic mushrooms that are deadly, one would assume, in order to not be picked for consumption. Unless there is something completely distinctly telling them apart like the edible ones have a flashing neon sign that says “you can eat me,” I do not trust that I would pick the right one. I don’t know about squirrels — after all I don’t see them laying dead in the woods beside a partially eaten toxic mushroom — but humans are easily duped, the evidence for which is often displayed in our choices in political elections.

The fire pond on our property did not get the late-summer message. It is as full as I have ever seen it at this time of year in the 25 years we’ve been here. We have been waiting for the pond to lower and create its late-summer shoreline in order to more easily cut up a small tree that has tipped into the pond from the bank. But only inches of a shoreline appeared earlier this summer and then has since remained completely full.

Bird activity has remained low as the birds transition from summer to fall and either prepare for migration or overwintering. I do continue to see a trio of ravens that stop by the lawn every day; pileated activity is sparse but regular. I was sad to finally stop refilling the feeders near the house earlier this summer; I was taking them in at night to lessen the chance of bear activity, but the squirrels and chipmunks were so abundant that I felt I was encouraging them to use our house for shelter. I will put them up again this fall only farther away from the house where the rodents feel less protected.

In the meantime, I remain curious about what the next seasons will bring us and thankful that the weather seems to be one thing that humans have not been able to corral and intentionally manipulate to our advantage.

From readers

A couple people sent emails regarding my column a few weeks ago on invasive species. Although I want to emphasize that my column was based on my own observations, a few readers were frustrated by my comment that I had not seen burning bushes beyond the ones that were planted. I personally haven’t, but they pointed to a couple places where these invasives have taken over forested areas and promise to send me pictures this fall which I will share.

One reader, after my column on getting stung by wasps nesting in metal horse fencing, provided the tip of using toothpaste on the sting which, he said, eliminates the pain and swelling in minutes. Although I prefer not to get stung in the first place, it seems inevitable. This is a tip I will try in the future and wanted to pass it along to readers.

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at

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