This morning I sauntered along the Pine Creek Rail Trail tapping into the same spirit with which John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and Saint Francis of Assisi traveled the earth, "stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow-mountaineers." (My First Summer in the Sierra. John Muir. Dover Publications, Inc.; Mineola, NY, 2004. pg 87)
But today I was not in the mountains; I was in the glacier carved valley just to the southeast of the Asaph Wild Area. I parked the car at the Pine Creek Rail Trail's northern terminus just next to Pag-Omar Farm Market. There were also some others on the trail today. A woman and her dog. A man and his dog. Two other people. I can keep a quick pace when I want to, but today I was the slowpoke on the trail. And for good reason.
I'm looking for bumblebees. I seek a bumble but it seems the recent cold snap may have driven the majority of them into dormancy.
Clouds filled the sky above as a cool Autumn breeze caused the leaves that were still holding tightly to the branches of the quaking aspens along the trail to dance and clap in synchronicity with the wind.
This wild space brings a happy melancholy to my heart today. It's clear that the flowers have begun to fade. There are scattered patches of goldenrod, water hemlock, Queen Anne's lace, and daisy along the trail but that is all. I count about twenty paces between each flower still in bloom. Suffice it to say that there aren't many flowers blooming this late in the year. The shortened days, morning frost and cooler temperatures that mark the end of the season for flowers also mark the end of the season for pollinating insects. As I saunter along the trail in search of the illusive bumblebee, the leaves that have decorated the branches of maple, aspen, and box elder trees are now dropping like rain under the force of a gentle breeze.
The creative life-giving Spirit of God works in such a way that, in the natural balance, there is food in every season for a great variety of our wild neighbors. As it is, by the grace of God life sustains life. Flowers bloom from early April well into October. Many varieties blooming at different times and for varying duration insure beauty for the landscape and food for pollinators. But now, as the flowers fade most of the pollinating insects have either left, gone dormant, or died.
Except for the bumbles I've found! Two of them. Sluggish, hugging small daisy flowers that are certainly on their way out, these bumblebees have found an oasis in the desert of dying and dormant plants. For the first and only time in their lives they will follow in their ancestor's footsteps. The average lifespan of a queen bumblebee is about 2-3 months but the last generation of the year goes dormant in late fall, burrowing in the ground under the leaf litter for the winter and emerging in the Springtime to produce the first generation of the new year.
While I stood carefully watching the two bumbles enjoying what was potentially their last meal of the year, white-throated sparrows and a ruby-crowned kinglet could be heard calling from the thicket adjacent to the trail. These birds are northern breeders, having just arrived from somewhere between the Adirondack Mountains and the boreal forest in Northern Canada. The white-throated sparrow may spend its winter here. The ruby-crowned kinglet will continue farther south. The winter will hold its own joys. Soon to come will be rest for the landscape and excitement for those who enjoy being visited by the birds that call the arctic home during the Summer.
As the seasons change, in wild spaces someone is always coming or going, waking up or settling in. We are the only ones that insist on living at the same breakneck speed from dawn till dusk, from Summer through Winter and from birth to death. Why is that? Could it be that wild spaces and wildlife have something to teach us about healthy rhythms of work and rest?