Sunrise Hike to the River

The sky was showing the first signs of light as FD headed off to work last Thursday morning. I generally walk him to our metal building where our vehicles are kept, and see him off to work each day. As I walked back through the building towards the house, I stopped by the electric buggy. I unplugged it from the charger and changed my plan for the day. I was going to head to the nearby river. I had not hiked to the river in many months. The heat of summer and emergence of insects made it a miserable walk. I also had to be cautious about snakes and varmints during the warmer months. And skunks were always a risk as well, and I certainly did not wish to have a meeting with one of those! But worst of all, was the almost impenetrable plant life in the area.

Once one crossed our fence at the west end of the pecan orchard property, it was a difficult hike through ten-foot tall weeds, and often a thick carpet of ground cover enmeshed with fallen limbs and branches. On entering the heavily wooded areas surrounding the river, one often had to meander through thickets of cat brier and other thorny brambles. And at that point, I watched closely for scat since I never wanted to meet a wild hog sow with a litter of young. Following the animal trails had always been the clearest route to get to the river bank, but even then, though the path was narrow and clear, overhanging branches meant stooping and sometimes crawling through the snarliest areas. But now that autumn wind and rain had matted down some of the vegetation, a river walk would be much more pleasant.

This was my view to the east as I parked the buggy and set out on my adventure.
Soft pink and blue skies greeted me as I hid the buggy in a grove of trees. This was my view to the west as I started my journey.

By the time I changed clothes and toted my camera, cell phone, and a glass jug of water to the buggy, the sky was a soft pink and blue, as the sun had not yet peeped over the horizon. I was glad I had gotten an early start. Perhaps I would see some wildlife before it got too warm where they sought comfort in the shade of the woodlands. More than anything, I was hoping to catch sight of Emma deer on this hike. We had not seen her for more than three weeks now. Spike and Ronnie returned to our property every few days, but Emma was nowhere to be found. The boys now had woolly winter coats, and their necks were thick with bodies that looked much more masculine than just a month ago. The rutting season was full of promise for these two, except maybe for Spike who was at a disadvantage having lost his one good antler. We had game camera video of them engaging in nighttime sparring with other yearling bucks. I was surprised that Spike continued to spar even though he only had a three-inch stub left on his head.

I parked the buggy in a hidden spot in the trees at the west end of our property and took the key with me. It was chilly this morning, so I wore a light weight hunting jacket and pants, and had an ear flap cap on and some warm gloves. I knew later I would be griping about the jacket and having to stuff the cap and gloves in pockets because, inevitably, I would be out several hours and by then the sun would be too warm for me to wear these items. Still, comfort for the moment ruled. I had remembered to wear my blaze orange vest too, as it was the muzzleloader deer hunting season in our area, and I needed to practice safety measures. Even though the area in which I would be hiking is in city limits, I also knew people still hunted illegally near the river. It was not likely, however, that I would encounter any hunting activity on a weekday.  Thinking of all this as I combat crawled under barbed wire fencing, I felt that same sense of adventure that I always felt when I headed to the wild of the river.

Most field flowers have perished after a couple of hard freezes to our area, but a cheerful yellow color hangs on just a bit longer.
I was thankful for the soft field grasses to walk upon. The human foot makes a lot of noise treading a path, but soft grasses help keep footsteps quiet.
A soybean field on an upper plateau meets a soybean field in the river bottom area via this Bermuda grass pathway. The grass here is about a foot deep. This old path isn’t driven often and probably only by farm hands who harvest the crop for the lease holder. It’s a beautiful, soft path, surrounded by all sorts of tall weeds.
Sunrise hits distant cottonwood trees, as I cross another fence, into an area where a canyon cuts deep into the sand rock soil. Water runoff from distant Walmart property and a neighboring Native American village is causing this erosion, which eventually reaches the river. Poor city planning has caused this issue. We have smaller scale of this kind of runoff happening on our pecan orchard property.
One doesn’t venture too close to the outer edges of this cut lest they fall in!
All sorts of dried plants I cannot identify are found in this wild area of the river bottom.
I am still learning about birds, but I believe this small woodpecker is a Downy. We have Hairy woodpeckers too and I always have to measure the size to tell them apart! I’m sure one of my birding readers will be able to tell me if I’m incorrect!

For more than three hours, I leisurely roamed both the upper plateau from the west end of the pecan orchard to the loamy soil of the river valley below. I traversed soybean fields and ventured into beautiful hidden areas within the woodlands. I crossed barbed wire fences into the river region, following an old animal trail along the river bank.  I did not go far back into an area of the river known as “the boot”, because the vegetation was still snarly and thick and I knew that hogs spent summers back in there. I would wait for the winter months to venture that far back into the river. I turned back and I noticed the time. FD would be home for lunch soon and I had quite a hike to make it back to the buggy if I wanted to make it home by noon. Looking down at my clothing, I was covered in various types of stick-tights – sticky burs and seeds that stick like Velcro to animals and clothing. I picked them off as best I could and cut across the soybean field, being careful not to knock down any of the dried plants. A good farm girl is always respectful of the fields and crops.

We find fox scat on our driveway and walkways almost every morning. This appears to be fresh scat I discovered as I crawled underneath barbed wire fencing. Imagine coming face to face with a turd first thing in the morning! Fortunately, foxes leave their scat in obvious places – along trails mostly. Where I crossed the fence is also where animals duck under the fencing.
This dead tree appears to house many families of woodpecker… or perhaps one big family of woodpeckers!
The willow trees along the river are spectacularly colored this autumn. This region does not always see brilliant colors in the fall, but this year is showing great promise!
Soapberry trees are common in these parts. The name is derived from the fact that the fruits, when crushed in water, create great quantities of suds and were used by West Indian/Mexican natives as a laundry soap. Oddly, I have seen deer munch on a few from time to time.
I saw many tiny deer hoof prints in the soybean fields. We have seen many fawns this year, and I suppose does both hide their young in the fields and, of course, feast on the crop as well.
No matter where I hike to, I find human trash everywhere. This plastic bottle remnant almost blended in with the soil and plant life.
This time of year, raccoon scat is primarily made up of seeds and berries, and hackberry trees put off a heavy crop of berries this year. As you would expect at the river and old river channel, I found lots of raccoon scat like this.
I discovered this is old coyote scat on an animal trail, near a fence crossing. Like foxes, coyotes leave their scat on obvious, well-traveled pathways. I prefer finding old scat as it is easier to detail what the coyote has been feasting on. Some type of mammal was ingested here, but without dissecting the scat a bit to note the length of hair, it is difficult to pinpoint just what mammal. I would guess a deer or opossum here.
I found the soybean outline interesting in the morning sun. I am not sure why these haven’t been harvested… but then the lease holder of this property never seems to be in a hurry for harvest. Every year it seems he’s the last to get his crops out.
This mammoth cottonwood finally fell to the ground a few years back. The smaller debris was pushed up to the main trunk so that crops could be planted around it. I wonder how many years it will take for this giant structure to break down?
View of river to the northeast.
Morning view of the river to the northwest.
This is a typical view of what I meander through as I venture along the river bank. There are animal trails through all of that, but often I must crouch my way through small tunnels and there are many brambles and vines that tear at my clothing. Carrying the camera and zoom lens adds a bit of a challenge as well.
This view shows a typical animal trail (the green path at center) that I follow in brushy areas. There are literally dozens of trails in the area of this photo. I fell when I became tangled in a ground vine, and while prone on the ground, I saw the tiniest little path in the grass. Perhaps this was the path of field mice or other small varmints.
It was apparent the base of this huge fallen cottonwood was used by mammals as a major bridge to the other side. I stepped across at this same point, leaving my human footprint there as well.
I call this area, “The Sisters”.
The narrow opening between The Sisters leads into an area I consider “enchanting”. The floor of the woods is blanketed in golden leaves this time of year, and fallen giants make for a lovely seating area or place to rest. Not much vegetation grows in this bottom land (probably from lack of sun during the summer months) so it has the appearance of a big, open room.
This is our buggy path over the top of the dike along the old river channel. The doe with the triplets has used this densely wooded area to hide her triplet fawns. We see them often as we take evening drives through the pecan orchard property.
The old river channel has a charm and elegance of its own. Lately, I have spotted ducks and a blue heron in these quiet waters.

As I raced home to catch FD for lunch, I knew I would have to have another day of exploring very soon. Though the weather looked to be chilly and overcast for the next week, I was bound and determined to continue my adventure. I knew I was a lucky girl to be doing the outdoor work that I love on our place and in the pecan orchard, but there was something deeply gratifying about taking a day to meander about out in the wild with no purpose at all. I could not blame Emma for taking off into this beautiful wilderness. And I hoped that she was doing well – wherever she was…

Each year, this seems to be a major area for deer to communicate during the rutting (mating) season. Usually, beginning in November , I have found scrapes all along this fence line. Scrapes are areas on the ground where bucks paw the soil with their hooves. They are most often made prior to the height of rutting season. The scrapes are a way to communicate with other deer. They leave their scent by urinating over their back legs onto the tarsal glands. Then they rub their tarsal glands together and squeeze urine over the scrape. This leaves a strong distinct smell of that deer in the scrape. Most scrapes also have a low hanging branch that the deer lick and rub their head on to leave additional scent. A scrape may be used by one buck or numerous bucks. From a distance a deer can smell what kind of activity the scrape has seen since it last visited. Does also frequent scrapes. This day, I found five scrapes along this fence, but I could only manage to get these two in one photo.
This was my view towards home – about a half of a mile away, when I realized it was nearly lunch time!
Walking through wetlands grasses can be painstaking. The soil is soft and the grasses are dense and thick. The distant line of trees is the area of our pecan orchard that I refer to as the Lower West End, which is also the area where I often visit the old river channel.

© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


37 thoughts on “Sunrise Hike to the River

    1. I miss Emma very much, Ardys. The rut is such a confusing time to understand. I am thankful to be able to observe so much with Ronnie and Spike – since we had never had the experience of raising a buck before. I hope that Emma returns to her home place, but until then I will continue to hike around in the river area, hoping she catches my scent.

      I find a lot of scat both when I hike to the river, and even working on our place. There is a lot of animal traffic moving through and around. I’m not very happy about the coyotes making a comeback. On one game camera video we saw a mother and her kit out in the night, I suppose she is teaching it to hunt.

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    1. Thank you, Steve – I knew you would know what some of these plants were! This must have been a good year for common sunflowers as they were everywhere – even in our vast yard. I like the splash of yellow on the property, and bees and other insects surely enjoy them too.

      I will be frequenting the river area this autumn and winter. For me, it is a study of wildlife in the area. Game cameras help me to analyze what happens in the nighttime hours. I also hope to do better at sitting and waiting for wildlife to appear. Patience is something that I have not learned as a photographer.

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      1. Then here’s to patience.

        Like you, I’m often puzzled by plant remains because they don’t offer as many clues to identification as fresh plants. Still, I have come to recognize a few. Dried sunflower seed heads strike me as particularly photogenic and I’ve taken many pictures of them over the years.

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        1. I love landscape photography this time of year with so many hues of color in dried plants. And of course the winter berries make an appearance now for a striking contrast.

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  1. This post is so special. I felt as though I were hiking along with you, listening to you explain so much that I didn’t know and would never have known about even if I might have seen it (but not understood its significance). I was crawling too, under wire fences or along animal trails, learning what it’s like to be part of nature. If i had been there, i would have looked towards the objects you trained your camera on, but I wouldn’t have seen what you captured in these wonderful photographs.

    It’s late here , and I thought I was tired, but this woke me up and provided a few pleasant hours outside of time. You are a very good guide, Lori. (You could charge for taking small groups along on your adventures.) There are a lot of persons like me who probably dreamed once of following trails in thick woods at dawn, but who had to imagine those experiences in the confines of a backyard or city park. Now here you are making it possible. Thank you for your generous gift!

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    1. It makes me feel good to know that you felt a part of this journey, Albert. I often think of readers who might enjoy such a hike. Sometimes I smile thinking of those blogger friends I know who would not enjoy the hike – it’s not comfortable or easy. The wild isn’t for everyone, but there is much to learn about nature regardless. I love to share what I have learned by observing nature. I often think back to the days when orphaned Daisy deer was a fawn and yearling, after she was released, and what I learned by following her around. I searched for her many times, just like I am now with Emma. This connection with the deer people is strong. I hope that my relationship with them takes me to broader realizations as I continue to learn about their ways.

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      1. A “connection with the deer people” is what you are providing here as well. And the pecan orchard people, the wet grass and nettles people, the silent trees that offer safety and peace, even the scat signs of life passing through and nourishing life. 🙂

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        1. Thank you so much for mentioning this, Albert. You know I haven’t mentioned that I often see insects, butterflies especially, on scat. I believe they draw moisture from the fresh droppings. Everything has a purpose and all life is indeed, connected.

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        2. It is great to be reminded of this piece. I just read it again, and the adventure came back full force. So then I re-read last year’s “Hiking to the River as the Crow Flies.” Then “Keeping Watch under the Stars.” It’s like living high points all over over again. And still they are available for later!. (Just wanted you to know, Lori, that your words and pictures remain alive. They keep some of us more actively in touch with a world we too often ignore.)

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          1. Your words mean a great deal to me, Albert. My favorite books/stories, are the ones I read again and again, feeling that same thrill and excitement each time. You just made my day… thank you, dear friend.

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    1. I have walked to the river for years, Paulette, and it’s always a delight. I hope Emma is doing well, wherever she is. I am sure the rut is an exciting time for the deer.

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  2. That soybean outline image grabbed me for the beautiful light and, I suppose, it’s connection to my rural roots. I also noted the red color of the soil in that cut.

    Thanks for taking us along on your walk. Your photos and writing truly pull me into this place.

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  3. You know I have to start with the woodpecker identification…just can’t resist. Yes, it sure looks like a Downy Woodpecker, even though I can’t see the entire bill. The two major differences between a downy and a hairy are overall size of the bird and bill length in relation to head size. On a downy, the bill is perhaps half the length of the head, whereas on a hairy woodpecker, the bill is much longer, almost the same length as the head.

    This ratio of bill length to head length is used to differentiate many similar species of birds. Another one I can think of now is the Lesser Yellowlegs and Greater Yellowlegs (shorebirds). By comparing the bill-to-head length, you can determine which species you’re looking at, even if you can’t see details of the feather colors and patterns, etc.

    I loved the length of this post, Lori, and all the detail. I especially liked the part where you fell on the ground and noticed the mouse trail. That’s something I try to remember to do on purpose when I’m out in nature — get down low and see things from a different perspective. There are many worlds to be seen when we open our eyes and take the time to really look. Thanks for taking us along on this day. 🙂

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    1. It’s a Downy for sure, Kim! I checked out another photo I had, and the bill is very short. Thank you so much for all of the identifying information! We have so many types of woodpecker in this region of Oklahoma. The Hairy and the Downy have always given me trouble and the feathers are so similar. Now I know how to easily identify them!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Perspective is everything. I can’t tell you the times I stumbled and fell, or made some kind of blunder only to find something I would have missed had I not goofed up. Daisy deer was the start of my awareness. She noticed things – the smallest things sometimes.

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  4. I remember the soapberries, but the seeds I got were from a tree in a backyard in Normal. I do not know why it was there. Maybe it just grew on its own. Oklahoma has such fascinating flora, and it was spread out over such huge areas, instead of broken up by valleys and mountains. I brought back eastern red cedar, prickly pear, honeysuckle, Yucca glauca, and more seeds than I can remember.

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    1. Soapberries can be found everywhere in these parts. We have a few trees near the house, and I see a few down by the river, but most of the time they line county roads and seem to grow in groves. You mentioned honeysuckle, a wild vine that has taken over much of our wooded ten acres. Wildlife of all sorts enjoy it so we leave it be. It’s a lovely fragrance most of the summer. I agree that Oklahoma has fascinating flora. I really enjoy the Wichita Mountains and Wildlife Refuge. I find some of the oddest plants there. I find myself doing a lot of research to discover what a plant might be.

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      1. When I went to Newalla, Oklahoma at about this time in 2012, I had never been off of the West Coast. We have so much diversity here, probably as much as the rest the contiguous states, but I had seen much of it. I was so flipping out in Oklahoma! The flora that is so common to Okies was so foreign to me! Seriously, I had never seen soapberries, or red mulberries, or even locusts growing in the wild!

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        1. Wow! That is impressive. It’s always interesting to hear about another person’s experience or perception of something. Years ago we took a brother-in-law from Washington state to the Wichita Mountains. I mentioned that Mt. Scott was probably quite boring to a person who was used to seeing the great Cascades in his state. He was quick to say that Mt. Scott had a beauty of its own and one could see for miles and miles while sitting at the top. In the Cascades, one just saw mountain upon mountain in the distance. I had not thought of it from that perspective. It’s wonderful to hear that you were taken with our plant life. I’m quite sure you would have loved this river hike – especially now with so many plants displaying brilliant colors.

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          1. You know, I live with the redwoods, as in I built my outhouse and shower inside the burned out stumps of redwoods. People in Oklahoma did not understand how someone who has always lives with such trees could be impressed with the Eastern red cedars (which I guess Okies dislike) and the blackjack oaks. Yet, they are as foreign to me as redwood would be to an Okie who had never seen one. I was amazed at how such short trees could make such vast forests over such flat land. That still seems weird.

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    1. Winter months are wonderful for hiking if the wind isn’t up too much. We don’t get much snow here, but a covering of snow is awesome for hiking. Tracking is so much easier with a layer of snow!

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  5. Hi Lori, I have enjoyed reading your recent posts. Your days are filled with adventures of various kinds. I am thankful I live in a part of the world where I don’t need to dash into a special shelter for protection from the kinds of storms you experience. I have no doubt Oscar will continue to be high spirited and think you are playing some thrilling game when you are desperate for him to just come back. I suppose he will settle down when he is a bit older. I am glad you like spiders – they need all the friends they can get. I know the activities of the deer and other wildlife will continue to absorb your interest and stimulate your mind.

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    1. You have pegged everything perfectly, Margaret! I do find adventure most everywhere. It is a special time where my daily tasks and chores are not so heavy and I have more time to explore the outdoors and attend to Oscar and Mr. T. Oscar is so good for Mr. T, I never would have thought they would be such buddies with eleven years between them. I do miss Emma, and of course I hope to see Daisy again one day. This autumn and winter I will be hiking the river area, hoping to catch sight of my deer family, and take in the wildlife and wild vegetation. I hope we have many favorable days for me to continue work in the orchard and take in and photograph what critters and wild things that present themselves!

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  6. It’s all so lovely, Lori, thank you for sharing. Albert is my spokesperson for this post as he mirrored my feelings exactly. And now It is late and I am off to bed. Goodnight. . . hm, maybe that should be good morning? 😉

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    1. You sure are a night owl lately, Lynda! Albert always has lovely things to say. As a person who has spent much of his life in the city, he seems to enjoy these bits of adventure in my life. And it appears from his comment, that he might be a bit of a night owl like you too!

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      1. Lack. Of. Hormones. And what is worse? I am unable to take naps during the day for fear of not being able to sleep at night. I have become an avid reader in the evenings so Bob can sleep. 😉 Slowly, I have worked my sleep cycle back from 1 or 2 AM to 11PM or 12AM. Slow and steady. Strangely, on vacation I went to bed by 10 ish and slept like a baby. What’s up with that???

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