Heavy beads of dew weigh down the grasses, each refracting a spectrum of color from the sunrise. I’m wading slowly through a soggy prairie planting, studying the ground for invasive weeds. Suddenly, the ground erupts in front of me. An explosion of labored wings, a rush of air, and my eyes find the airborne hen turkey highlighted by thousands of water droplet prisms. As the droplets rain down on me, I trace the seesaw descent of a breast feather and watch it stick to my upper boot. I see them then. Tiny turkey poults, perhaps only a day old, one step away from my boot. Concern grips me.
I have to get out of here before the poults try to flee. If they get wet in this cool morning air, they’ll perish. They don’t have enough down feathers to protect them. The poults start to get fidgety. I backtrack slowly. The hen circles back to her poults. Disaster avoided.
Happy about the favorable outcome, I decide to continue my weed patrol efforts in an oak savanna. Once again, I’m walking slowly with my eyes fixed on the ground. Bam! I feel a sharp pain in the side of my head followed by the scolding of a blue jay. The jay just landed a direct blow to my head. Obviously. It felt I was too close to its nearby chicks.
Rubbing my head, but not discouraged, I head over to a small prairie remnant to patrol for weeds. But the fear of my size 10 boots stepping on a newly emerged gentian or puccoon hidden by the morning sun’s long shadow proves too much, and I decide to move my efforts elsewhere.
In route to the pond, I stop to pull a sweet clover plant. As I bend down to grasp the plant, I find my nose inches away from a bald-faced hornet nest nestled in a small American hazelnut bush. Luckily for me, the nest was in the early stages of construction, and the one hornet guard sitting on the baseball-size nest was more interested in the warm morning sun than me. Not to push my luck, I vacate the area making a mental note of the nest’s location. It will be much larger with hundreds of workers by late summer.
At the pond, I visually plan my route along the shoreline to look for reed canary grass, purple loosestrife and cattails. But before I take the first step of my weed control, I notice the ground is moving. Tiny clumsy critters are “crawling” everywhere. Miniature American toads, no larger than the size of my pinky fingernail, number in the hundreds, maybe thousands. They all recently metamorphosed from tadpoles. Not wanting to crush little toads, I abandon my pond effort and decide to try my luck in the nearby sedge meadow.
Wise to the ways of red-winged blackbirds, and still suffering from a sore head, I was ready when the noisy mob of blackbirds came after me. I blunted each of their attacks with a wave of my hat. Focused on my blackbird defensive maneuvers, the trumpet blast rattled me. Standing feet away with a wingspan longer than the height of most men, a sandhill crane is trumpeting repetitive calls skyward. Within a millisecond, another distance crane is airborne and answering each of its mate’s calls. Seconds later, I have two cranes within feet of me. They’re quiet now, staring at me with their intense red eyes. I decide to abort my weed control efforts for the day.
It’s Saturday morning. I was looking forward to working at my own place, and now I’m plopped on a deck chair feeling bummed about my lack of progress. “It just seems like the occupants of this land don’t appreciate what I do for them.” I hear a blunt, harsh twill call and find a Cope’s gray treefrog sitting on top of the deck chair beside me. The little guy is catching the last bit of shade before the sun finds its way into his corner of the deck. He twills again. “What” I say, “do you think I’m a big bug?” The frog doesn’t answer, his chin oscillating up and down.
“You are right,” of course, I say to the wise frog. Sometimes, I don’t appreciate what all the occupants of this land do for me!