from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA
September 2, 2001
This has been a rainy week with us. My clothing and books are mildewing and who knows what's happening to my computer circuitry? On the other hand, the garden's new beds of kale, mustard greens, collards and turnips are beautiful, and it seems the rains quieten the fire ants. The rain isn't cold so I have been able to enjoy some naked-hermit showers. It is good to stand in the rain naked, and to bathe in pure sky water surrounded by the forest's glistening leaves.
Sometimes snuggled within my beautiful Kentucky quilts I think about why raindrop sounds please me so. Maybe it's because of their randomness. There is randomness in the time between their splashes and in how loud each splash sounds. There is a randomness in the quality of each splash sound, depending on whether the drop hits a leaf outside my window, the tin roof or the sodden ground. Yet, all this randomness brings pure fresh water, which is life-giving. Here Nature is saying "Do not fear the quality of randomness in itself, for it can be generous." I know that intellectually this seems a rather tenuous supposition, but maybe there's something at the subconscious level that needs such assurance... I don't know.
I think like this as I lie in my little trailer listening to the rain. People living in houses so large and closed up that they cannot hear raindrops suffer a great loss. Yes, raindrop sounds minister to the spirit in important ways, and that is one good thing about this week's rains.
HAIKU FOR A RAINY DAY
That's a haiku poem. There's no rhyme, but it follows the rule that the first line must have 5 syllables, the second 7, and the last 5. The topic involves an aspect of nature, and in a few words it captures or suggests something beyond what the mere words refer to. These are the main features of a good haiku.
I like writing haiku. When I'm writing them regularly, I know that my own spirit is healthy. Alternately, sometimes writing them makes me feel better. Like listening to rain, haiku can be therapeutic, both writing them and reading them.
A while back I set up a "Backyard Haiku Mail List," so this week when a rain came and that Haiku emerged from me, I submitted it to the mail list. The poem was distributed to several subscribers just like this newsletter is distributed to you. Sometimes weeks pass without there being a single submission. Then one day suddenly someone's haiku appears in my downloaded mail and it's pretty nice.
If you'd like to subscribe to that mail list, send an empty email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part of the magic of Haiku is that sometimes you astonish yourself with what comes from you.
Once again on my morning journey to Laurel Hill's gardens I have met with a poisonous snake coiled in the dirt road's rut-water. This time, however, I missed running over the snake by a few inches, and it was not a Cottonmouth. It was a young Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus, and therein lies a story.
In Kentucky as a youngster roaming the hills and swamps around our farm I learned with precision the habitats of poisonous snakes. Cottonmouths were in swamps and rattlesnakes and copperheads were in rocky areas and around old homesteads on hillsides. I got so I could anticipate exactly where these species would appear, and when I was in non-snaky habitat I didn't bother much watching out for them.
On my first visit to Laurel Hill back in the late 70's one day I slipped out to the swamp's edge to take a pee. Being snake savvy, every step I took I checked closely for thick, black cottonmouths, because cottonmouths were swamp species. Seeing none, I set about peeing in confidence and instantly noticed that the spot on which I was peeing was moving about. I was dousing a very well camouflaged copperhead snake.
In this way I learned that copperheads are separated into two subspecies, the Northern Copperhead and the Southern Copperhead, and that much in contrast to the hillslope-loving northern subspecies I'd grown up with, the southern subspecies is a swamp-lover,
Well, this week I have learned that a similar situation exists with Timber Rattlesnakes. Southern Mississippi's Timber Rattlesnakes can be swamp snakes while their Kentucky counterparts stick to dry, rocky woods. In fact, until fairly recently southern Mississippi's Timber Rattlers were considered to be a distinct subspecies called the Canebrake Rattlesnake. However, snake specialists have decided that there's not enough difference between the northern and southern forms to keep them apart, so, at least officially, there's no such thing as a Canebrake Rattler -- they're all Timber Rattlers.
Anyway, my Timber Rattlesnake this week was a young one without a single button on its tail. However he did something special with that tail, which was conspicuously black in contrast to the boldly patterned body: He stuck the black tail straight up out of the water for about 3 inches. I just wonder what this accomplished for him? I wonder if it was used to hold a frog's attention as the camouflaged front end sneaked up on the frog from the side? By the way, I found one frog that apparently had been bitten and now floated dead beside the snake. Before he bloated and became unpresentable I took him home and scanned him for my nature-study site, and you can see this, a Bronze Frog, at http://www.backyardnature.net/frogs.htm
Also, there's a pretty picture of a Timber Rattlesnake (called here Canebrake Rattlesnake) at http://www.rattlesnakes.com/snakes/snake03.html
By the way, here is a list of the various poisonous snakes to be found at Laurel Hill:
Eastern Coral Snake (MICRURUS FULVIUS)
Southern Copperhead (AGKISTRODON CONTORTRIX CONTORTRIX)
Western Cottonmouth (AGKISTRODON PISCIVORUS LEUCOSTOMA)
Timber Rattlesnake (CROTALUS HORRIDUS)
Western Pigmy Rattlesnake (SISTRURUS MILIARIUS STRECKERI)
I returned with a bucket to catch the Timber Rattler but it was gone. However, the next morning it awaited me in the same rut water, and this time I did catch it, put it into a bucket, and on my bike carried it to the pond across the hill, the same pond where a while back I deposited the Cottonmouth who had so vigorously stabbed my bike tires.
I approached the pond rather gingerly, not wishing to disturb my former Cottonmouth friend if he happened to be in the area. Perhaps this slow approach enabled me to arrive at the pond's edge without alerting a River Otter working not 30 feet away. I stood watching for a couple of minutes before the otter noticed me. I didn't move at all so the otter swam toward me, providing me a good view of his bright, intelligent-looking eyes, sleek fur and stiff whiskers. He really looked like someone's chubby-faced "Oncle Otto." About 15 feet from me suddenly he dived and I watched a trail of silvery bubbles trace his underwater passage to a far corner of the pond.
I've often watched River Otters cavort in swamps but this is my first sighting of one on Laurel Hill land. Kathy Moody, Laurel Hill's manager, says she's seen a group of them running across her yard.
There is a lot of interesting information about River Otters, as well as some photos, at a Nebraska Web site at http://www.ngpc.state.ne.us/wildlife/otters.html
LOESS HILLS PROJECT
Newsletter subscribers living in the "Natchez to New Orleans" region covered by "Country Roads," an advertisement-stuffed newspaper made available at mall entrances, can read about one of my ecotourism projects in the current September edition. There's a nice story about the Loess Hills plus some of my pictures beginning on page 47. I think that our region holds enormous ecotourism potential, and that idea is what the story is about.
GARDEN SPIDER #2
Last Sunday I reported that the Garden Spider in my outside kitchen had disappeared. Monday morning I was amazed to find the web rebuilt, and in its center there was a new Garden Spider. This second spider makes a larger and better-built web than the old one, though the spider itself is considerably smaller than the first one.
I can't imagine how this has happened. Was this smaller spider just waiting until the older one disappeared? Had there been a fight, with the smaller spider winning? Did the Dewdrop Spiders sharing the old web somehow broadcast to the area that a good Garden Spider web location was available?
This is just one of those mysteries, any explanation of which just has to be amazing. The Dewdrop Spiders are still there. In this rain the new Garden Spider isn't catching much.
There are so many mysteries out there. And the more I learn, the more I realize that even more mysteries remain, and that those mysteries are even more beautiful than the beautiful ones that got me started noticing things.