There is definitely a hint of autumn in the air and in other places, too. Yes, the cool dawn air is sweet, clean and sharp from our cold nights.
The rising sun is welcome and warming, but afternoon showers soon cool things off again. There are signs of fall, also.The first aspen tree in the valley below our house has turned golden and is now beginning to lose its leaves. The grasses are ripening their seed heads, so our hillside is now a warm tawny tan, with splotches of green from weeds and bits of red from wood beauty cinquefoil and wild roses.
The ripening grasses are dry and therefore less palatable to the elk, so they have found my bit of watered garden where things are still green, another sign of fall. Every year they eat the buds on my beautiful Japanese anemones before they can open into the lovely pink flowers they would become.
Mice are also seemingly abundant this year, and the cold nights have sent them looking for their winter homes. They have been coming into my house in hopes of a warm sheltered spot, and I have been setting traps every night.
Fortunately, they think peanut butter is the best food they have ever found, which makes them easy to trap. Soon they will have found a warm place outside to make tunnels and a den for nesting and will be settled for the winter. They will no longer try to come into the house, and I will be free of them until spring.
When spring comes, if we have a rapid thaw that causes melted snow water to run into their winter tunnels, they are often flooded out. With no place to go, they will try once more to come into the house for about a week, but they soon find new quarters outside, and I am once more free of them all summer.
It is all but impossible to prevent their entering an old house for the foundations are not that tight, but it is just one of the prices one has to pay for the pleasure of living in the country.
The resident birds have already begun to form winter flocks, as they always do soon after their young are grown. These mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, finches, sparrows, woodpeckers, jays and other winter birds travel together until spring. This banding together provides more ears and eyes to look for food, to watch for predators and to seek our safe, sheltered roosting places.
There is often safety in numbers for small birds and it is most apparent in winter. The last of the fall flowers are magnificent. Their fall colors of yellow and purple plus a few others such as red clover are brilliant and seem to be defying the cold weather. Many of the clovers are very hardy. They grow along roadsides with poor soil and very little water, coming up early in the spring and blooming in late or early fall.
There are three types of clover in our area: the true clovers (trifolium), the medics (medicago) and the meliots (meliotis), or sweet clovers. The true clovers are low growing and most everyone recognizes their white, pink or red blossoms and three-parted leaves.
The medics are often creeping plants, and the sweet clovers are tall and very sweet scented. There are over 60 species of these three genera found in the United States, and they all have something that is of great value to people.
They have a long taproot and a mass of fibrous roots. Their roots have many little bumps or nodules on them, which for some time were thought to be a disease. Instead, scientists have found that they contain bacteria that are underground partners of the clover.
They are able to take free nitrogen from the air and make it available for plants to absorb. Anything that can take nitrogen from the air and make it available for plant food is of great value to farmers for nitrogen is often the most expensive ingredient in fertilizers. Therefore, clovers are often used as green cover crops, and they are also raised for seed. In areas with long enough growing seasons, farmers often plant a first crop of clover, which they harvest for hay or seed then plant a second crop, which they plow under to enrich their own soil.
The tall sweet clovers were introduced from Europe by beekeepers, so they could harvest the incredibly sweet honey. Yellow sweet clover is the more common of the two and is now on the noxious weed list, which seems odd to me since it is known to grow on incredible poor soil and increase the soil’s quality by growing there until it improves enough for other plants to survive.