My work clearing downed branches and limbs in the orchard had come to a standstill for a few weeks, since early Autumn rains arrived as they generally do in September. But with the wind and rain, even more limbs came down. Many trees were already on overload with too many pecans and the rain only added to the weight – and the wind finally took its toll. We are now looking at a huge cleanup job in front of us, including a lot of chainsawing. Some of the larger sections can be sold for milling, and we will likely have to invest in a wood-splitter at some point to be able to make firewood out of the other portions. The project of cleaning up the pecan orchard seems endless at times, but I am thankful to be doing work I enjoy in an atmosphere I love.
After the wind and rain of September, the mosquitoes arrived in full force in October. All spring and summer, I had managed working each week in the orchard without having to deal with too much of an insect problem. During this time, the humidity and heat had been more of an issue for me, but I endured. Now, with the autumn rains, the population of mosquitoes exploded. The slough filled back up and, along with that, a new crop of pesky cockleburs took root. As I had throughout the summer, I armored myself with the usual arsenal of herbal bug potions and essential oil blends, but this strain of mosquitoes seemed undeterred. So I pulled cockleburs in the warmest part of the afternoons on the windiest days to avoid the worst of the mosquitoes and, like clockwork, they seemed to arrive by 4:00 in the afternoon in a relentless fashion. I had enjoyed my short hair all year, until now. I did not realize how my longer hair had protected my neck and ears from biting insects. Still, I had to be thankful that most of this year, I was able to keep working with minimal misery.
There were also some wonderful nuances in the change of season. Punkin the squirrel, who was three years old in February, came by for a visit one rainy morning. We had not seen Punkin since April, and there is always the worry that a hawk or fox might have gotten to her. But finally one morning, she came looking for pecans, and when I left a few for her I noticed she had been busy being a mother. Her teats were prominent, but it was clear she had weaned her babies. I saw Buddy the squirrel most every day. He roams a large area – sometimes I saw him near the deer pen, other times out in the pasture or near the burn pile, but most often he is down in the canyon at the water tub, or hanging out with numerous other male squirrels in the woods nearby, gathering pecans or eating hackberries. Buddy turned three in August this year.
It has also been a good autumn to observe large numbers of butterflies on the move. I saw more monarchs this year than I had since late September of 2012. The woodlands became a stunning garden of monarchs that year, with thousands of the delicate beauties dripping from tree branches. We did not see 2012 types of numbers this year, but the population was certainly heavier than it had been since then. I did not photograph them much, knowing I could never top the photos I had from 2012, but I still delighted in their presence.
And of course Emma, Ronnie and Spike often showed up about mid morning as I worked in the orchard. Only Emma stayed nearby for very long, grazing and often bedding down to do a little ruminating. When I moved, she moved. Spike and Ronnie often took to sparring, and would eventually take off to the west towards the old river channel. In the evening, the trio joined together again. I wondered about so many things regarding how the rut season would go. Would Ronnie and Emma mate, or would Spike challenge Ronnie? Or would other bigger bucks show up? And would Emma leave in search of a buck, or choose to stay around home? After all, I understood that the doe chooses her buck. And was Ronnie hanging near her because it was what he had always done, or was he vying for her attention? Would he strike out on his own, traveling miles away to look for does? Lately, it seems that Ronnie has the advantage over Spike with his fine antlers, and has become the dominant buck of the two, often chasing Spike away from Emma. But that sure has not kept Spike from coming around anyway.
There has also been new life in the orchard this year. A doe delivered a set of twins in late May. The twins flourished at the west end of our property throughout the summer, despite my worry about the coyote population in the area. Most of the time we avoided the west end of the property to respect their space, but often spotted them when we drove the buggy to check game cameras that we have placed all over the property. And later this summer, we noticed game camera video of another doe frequenting the same area. It was evident she was very pregnant and seemed to be friendly with the mama doe who had the twins, leading us to believe they were related. We had observed friendliness like this with Daisy deer and her fawn, Spirit, when Spirit had her first offspring. FD was just sure this robust doe would have triplets. By late August, we could not believe she had not yet delivered. Finally, in early September we saw her on game camera footage with two spotted fawns. They appeared quite healthy and spry. Being born so late in the season, we hoped they would continue to do well to survive the winter. But by mid-September, we noticed the doe had moved her babies into our woodlands just west of the house, and often took them on day trips into the pecan orchard. I was delighted about this since I often caught sight of them while I was working in the orchard. And the odd thing was, the mama doe did not seem afraid of us. She had to be a local doe that was familiar with us and used to our presence.
In early October, we made an interesting discovery while viewing game camera video – that late season mama doe actually did have triplets! For some reason, she mostly keeps two of them together, with one in a separate area. Mama keeps watch nearby while they are bedded down in the tall grasses of the pecan orchard, and FD and I often see them run between the orchard and the old river channel. Just yesterday evening, as FD and I drove the buggy to the west end, we saw the older twin fawns,which we have now determined to be a buck and a doe, hanging out with the triplets. All five scampered off as we drove through, apparently not too alarmed, having seen the buggy traverse through the orchard many times since their birth.
But this week, as I did my work in the orchard, my thoughts were with Emma, Ronnie and Spike. Last week, Spike and Ronnie had ventured off as they do each day, but they did not return that evening. With the boys gone, Emma hung around close to home for a couple of days, following me around in the mornings before taking off to the shade in the woods during the heat of the day, and then returning in the evening. But then she too eventually disappeared. Each day I worked in the orchard I kept watch, but saw no sign of the kids. I thought about so many scenarios. Had they become bored here and ventured off towards the river to parts unknown? Was this the early stages of the rut and hormones were beginning to rise? Was Emma in search of her first buck? Were Ronnie and Spike chasing does? I hoped they were well, wherever they had gone. For the first time since their release, I was alone in my work. I missed Emma’s companionship, even though many times she was a snoop, getting into my tools, nibbling at my clothing or licking my arms as I worked, or occasionally coming up behind me when I wasn’t watching and clobbering me with a hoof to let me know she was present. Yes, I missed all of that. But I also knew this time of independence would come. And I wanted them to be wild and on their own – just as life should be for them.
Then this morning Spike showed up at the feeder. His only antler had been broken partway off and was now about three inches tall. He did not stay long, but ate a quick nibble of feed and then went off to the orchard. I wondered how his first rut would be without ample antlers to defend himself against other bucks, or how he might show a doe that he was a capable suitor? And where were Emma and Ronnie?
I will likely not have answers to most of my questions. I will only be able to wait and watch, comparing notes with what I have learned from Daisy deer over the years. And no matter what patterns and similarities I try to find in the life of the Whitetail deer, I know there will be just as many oddities and surprises that will confuse me entirely. Life is like that. There is an ebb and flow to everything, and it is completely unpredictable.
© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…