Therapy found on less traveled roads

By JEFF NORTH,

The serpentine backroads that I travel so frequently are almost like the gateway to freedom. My whole demeanor changes when I exit the fast pace of planes, trains, and automobiles in and around Madison. Life seems to move at a snail’s pace when the last orange barrel that lines so many of our highways and streets is in the rearview mirror. I wonder if stress from constant construction and what so many refer to as “progress” could be a direct link to the vaping epidemic?

Regardless, I know I’m in a better place when I venture into haunts unknown through tunnels created by an overhanging canopy of oak limbs. Though obstacles still abound, they are far different than the 18 wheelers, dump trucks, and bulldozers that crack your windshields and cause you to speak in vain. The obstacles now are in the form of slow crawling box turtles, bounding whitetails, and the occasional biker clad in spandex and chartreuse. At the speed of travel on these delightful jaunts, there is enough time to focus on what is out your side windows and not the brake lights in front of you. I will make my case.

They seemingly pop up overnight. Literally, they are absent one day and flourishing the next. I noticed the first clump last week as I crept along the bumpy country road on my weekly drive. The vivid red jumped out from the understory of oaks at the old homesite.

They normally flower in late summer or early autumn in response to heavy rainfall. Of course, this year, I suppose they gave up on any appreciable moisture and did their thing. Have you noticed them? The red spider lily, also known as the hurricane lily or equinox flower, has made a grand entrance to welcome fall. As I continued my journey, I began to see more and more of them along the roadsides and field edges. Some were in clumps and many in long straight lines. There is no telling how long they have been here and what an interesting story they could tell if only they could speak.

I have heard you never want to give a bouquet of these umbels to someone for they symbolize death. I like to think they are a sign of life, that being the arrival of fall. Either way, I surely enjoyed their presence.

Just around a curve and alongside a creek, a feisty fox squirrel struggled with the decision of which side of the road in which to exit. His solid black face peered at me as I came to a halt to allow him time to escape. He made up his mind and I eased up eye to eye with him as he clung to the side of the water oak. He didn’t seem scared and in a soft voice I said, “you better get out of this road fellow.” Then I remembered I wasn’t on one of the fast-paced streets anymore and this was his domain.

As I slowly pulled away, I watched him jump right back onto the rough paved road where I had disturbed him from. Then it dawned on me what he was doing. That lazy rascal was gorging himself on fresh acorns dropping from the limbs above. They were easy pickings lying atop the road barren of leaves and sticks. He wasn’t scurrying about digging through leaves and debris in his search for dinner. It was there for the taking. I suppose he was smart, not lazy, and not to mention he had a birds-eye view of any lurking bobcat or snake that would try and make a meal out of him. Of course, he better watch out for a hawk gliding down this avenue for a quick catch.

All along my trek, does with spotted fawns flitted in and out of the woods bounding in front of my truck. Many times, my intrusion separated them from one another as I stopped between them with one or more on the other side of the road from the other. They must know I’m no threat for most of the time they would just stand there and wait for me to pull away. Once again, I would see them through my rearview mirror re-group and carry on their daily routine. I shudder to think what would happen to them along the chaotic travel routes within our city. I was amazed at how many deer I saw on this afternoon. I know the populations are spiraling but this was almost alarming. No wonder they are wreaking havoc on the crops. That aside, I did enjoy their presence for a while.

Onward, I ran into a group of hen turkeys with a few poults. The young birds are almost as tall as the hens but you can still discern the difference between the two. I have been wondering what this spring’s hatch was like and though this wasn’t a huge clutch, it is at least encouraging to know a few of the nests made it through the spring floods. They were close enough that I could notice the developing red caruncles on the jakes. It will be a couple of years, but hopefully they will make it to announce their dominance through the hardwood bottoms and pine studded ridges with raspy gobbles. Maybe I will be fortunate to be sitting at the base of some ancient tree to take it all in.

There were other treats for the viewing as I made my loop and headed towards home. Doves were sporadically taking flight from the roadsides. I suppose they were picking up grit for their gizzards. Doves do have gizzards, don’t they? I guess I’ll have to do a little research on this one. Broom sedge is still green, but it too will be turning quickly. It was quite abundant.

It’s funny how we don’t notice many things until they are in “season.” I did notice the color of the foliage has slowed just a bit in turning. Maybe the trees are just a little confused, wondering if it’s still summer and not being able to pull up the calendar date. Don’t crucify me, I know you don’t attribute anthropomorphic intentions to non-human entities but it’s still fun to give the flora and fauna a little credit.

As I pulled into my driveway I was brought back to reality. The UPS truck sped by my house pausing barely long enough to throw a package at my front door. The school bus was alive as kids scurried from the steps to their video games and snacks. Mud covered my driveway from a summer of falling clods from underneath our trucks. Sirens could be heard in the distance and lawnmowers and weed eaters were on the edge of disturbing the peace. Not to worry though for I know some less traveled roads that I will frequent again soon for some much needed, therapy. You should do the same. If you pass me, flag me down for a chat, it would be nice to compare notes on what you have seen as well. Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.

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