By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
Excerpted from my book, A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozarks High Country. Available in print and eBook in the Show Me Oz bookstore.
It’s amazing what a little rain can do during a drought. Before our last bout of rain, the grass was brown and so brittle that it crunched beneath our feet. But after the rain, the grass and all the native plants in the meadow turned a vibrant green and the once silent meadow suddenly came alive with the songs of happy frogs, crickets and cicadas. This seemingly incredible transformation is not as uncommon as it might seem.
In fact, temporary states of hibernation caused by extreme weather occur in many different life forms. For example, both toads and frogs spend hot, dry periods resting in shallow burrows in soft soil or under rocks and many insects delay hatching or wait to pupate until the weather is favorable for their survival.
So it was that only one day after the rain began, I happened to look out of the window during a break in the showers and noticed an unusually large group of kingbirds flying just above the ground in a very erratic behavior. Of course, kingbirds are very agile and are commonly seen hunting in wide-open spaces, but there was something about the number of birds present and their movements that seemed odd to me.
I stepped out onto the porch to get a better look and had been watching them darting about and nearly colliding with one another when suddenly a large flock of barn swallows joined the kingbirds. They, too were flying crazily about. Scratching my head in confusion, I stepped out into the yard and looked up into the sky and was shocked and thrilled to see the dark, angular outlines of a single nighthawk zipping about.
Nighthawks are elusive nocturnal, birds, yet this one was flying not twenty feet above my head in broad daylight. As I stood in wonder, several other nighthawks arrived, all of them swirling and diving in the small open space of the clearing.
I strained my eyes to see what it was that they were after, but there appeared to be nothing there. I was turning my head to call Dean to come outside, when the sun blinded me for just a moment. It was then that I saw the large cloud of tiny, winged insects backlit by the sun. Just then, one of them landed on my arm and I smiled. The cloud was a swarm of winged termites, apparently coaxed into flight by the recent rain.
Although I hadn’t been able to see them in the air until I turned just so – the birds, with their incredibly sharp eyes, hadn’t missed a beat and their frenzy had obviously drawn a crowd. We stood watching the spectacle for at least ten minutes and then the shimmering cloud slowly drifted to the southeast. The birds followed them until all were out of sight.
Obviously, rain brings out many new creatures for us to observe and within the next week, many new insects arrived on the scene. One of the new arrivals included two impressively large Arboreal Orb Weavers belonging to the Neoscona or Araneus species, which have set up house on the front porch.
These spiders spend the daytime hours curled up in an inconspicuous corner under the eaves, but as soon as dusk arrives, they begin spinning their very large and intricate webs. Usually, they can complete a web within an hour to an hour and half. Such a large web catches equally large prey and the spiders rush to wrap up their meals before they get away. But in the morning, before the sun gets very high in the sky, the spiders meticulously destroy their webs, only to rebuild them again come dusk.
Another orb weaver known as the Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope auranita), has taken up residence in the irises by the back door. These large, dark spiders are brightly patterned with yellow or orange stripes or splashes across their long, pointed abdomens and their oversized legs are ringed with orange stripes.
Garden spiders make small but artistic webs that include a heavy, vertical zigzag pattern woven into the center. The spiders wait at the top of the zigzag with their head down and legs splayed out in a wide X-shape, ready to pounce on large prey such as grasshoppers and katydids that are apparently attracted by the lure.
Nowadays, when it rains after a long, dry spell, I make it a point to get out and about to search for things both new and beautiful. The natural world is full of the wonders of Creation and all we have to do to be closer to it is to take the time to look.
© 2013 Jill Henderson – Sharing allowed with links to this site.
Set in the rugged heart of the Ozark mountains, A Journey of Seasons is memoir, back-to-the-land handbook and nature guide rolled into one. Henderson’s 20-years of living off the land and foraging in the wilderness shines in this cyclopedic work filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor. This is one journey you don’t want to miss.
Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.