Letter from Birdland: How 'bout (all) them apples?

Letter from Birdland: How 'bout (all) them apples?

Fall has come to Birdland at last, but it is a dry, dusty sort of fall. We did get a nice soaking rain, but it was not enough to overcome the drought. We got an inch in June, half an inch in July and maybe a half an inch each in August and September. They say we need an inch a week, just to replenish, so no, one nice soaking rain is not enough to recover from the drought.

This year was a bumper crop for apples. I'm still cranking out apple butter with my little strainer, and it seems every tree I see has piles and piles of fruit under it. But I heard on the radio that trees are going into survival mode, one last push at the future in case they don't make it through the stress of the long drought.

Many of my trees show signs of stress. My quince tree has wilt on about a third of the branches, even as it hangs low with heavy golden orbs, bigger than I've ever seen them. This past week they have gone from fuzzy green to bright yellow, and the chickens have pecked at all the low-hanging fruit, or any that falls from the trees.

Even my ornamental quince produced a few pomes the size of a golf ball. I've never seen fruit on that bush before, despite being covered with flowers all spring.

The walnut by the kitchen door, a mere adolescent by tree standards, has given more nuts each year since it first produced a handful about five years ago, but it seems like we have twice as many in the yard as last year. The day we got our thundering rain, the tree dropped walnuts down like hail. I had to dodge them as I ran from the car to the kitchen door.

I have already picked up 2 bushels from the driveway and the walk, and I'll bet I could get that many again. I am beginning to question the wisdom of letting that tree grow right there. When the nuts started falling, I would step on them and twist my ankle nearly every time I went outside.

Yesterday, I asked Ellis to help me rake leaves and pick up walnuts. My youngest was less than enthusiastic about the importance of getting the walnuts picked up, but I explained about how getting older makes you worry about falling and breaking your hip, something I never thought of in my youth.

The fall brings the harvest, and I've enjoyed watching the combines comb across the fields, spilling their grain in a bright shower into the waiting truck. Last night, I drove home through the country and saw many scenes repeated all the way.

The setting sun gilded the tawny fields, the dry conditions made the yellow dust rise and the scene was softened through the filtered light. I kept thinking I should stop and take some photos.

At home, I found the same scene in our bean field. I thought about dropping my books to run out after the combine and beg a ride, but I had work to do. We raked leaves and filled the chicken nest boxes. (Why buy bedding in the fall, when leaves are all around?)

Then I sat in the Adirondack chairs and watched the back and forth of the combines (like big dinosaurs, they are) as I hulled the walnuts for cracking. My fingers will be stained for the next three months.

This morning, Michael and I took our morning walk, but instead of meandering around the yard, my husband and I took off straight across the newly shorn field to check on the milkweed pods. Last week, we went on a fishing expedition and finally found milkweed in one of the far grass waterways, but the pods were still quite green.

This time, we found them a little drier; the plants had shed their leaves, only the rough, comma-shaped seed pods still clinging to the stalk. We cracked off several stems into a big bouquet of pods to bring home for our butterfly garden. As we walked back through the blond piles of soybean remains, Michael gleaned a few stems of missed soybean pods.

He asked me how much the elevator would pay for his handful of soybeans, and I told him he could get more money from the milkweed pods than his tiny bit of seeds. He might as well toss them to the chickens.

Glean beauty; harvest peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in all the bounty of the earth and of her own backyard. You can see more of her writings at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdlandgmail.com.

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