Monday, August 31, 2009

Who Stretched Forth the Heavens?

How black was the night. I had looked forward to the evening planned and anticipated learning about the stars. Experts came with telescopes and enthusiasm. We had a wonderful time with the visit of members of the Astronomical Society of Colorado. They came to the Karval area for fun and some of the darkest nights anywhere. They shared with the community more than we could have dreamed.

Our eyes finally adjusted to the nighttime sky; we began our individual tours, with a sky so big we didn’t have to share our own personal view. The Milky Way stretched out before us, more like a cloud obscuring our view of stars than billions of stars blurred together.

Lines of interested people waited for a chance to see a close up view of Jupiter, or a nebula, or even Neptune. Just as amazing were the constellations pointed out by knowledgeable guides with powerful laser pointers. There are no lines in the sky to help you see Sagittarius as a teapot; or Scorpius a twin-tailed scorpion; the Big Dipper directing us to Polaris in the Little Dipper; Cassiopeia the queen, a distorted W; Draco the Dragon snaking along; Cepheus the king, a tilted house. Who can follow the Dipper’s handle and arch over to Arcturus in the constellation Bootes and spike downward to Spica in Virgo? We all got the chance to try our hands at identifying constellations.

Millennia of stars, stories, and celestial events spread before us. The longer we looked, the more stars seemed to appear. We saw several satellites slowly trace a line across the sky. No evening could be complete without a few falling stars, flaming bits of interplanetary dust flashing brilliantly toward earth. Chatter with friends made the time spent even more spectacular.

Distant Thunder

We have had quite a summer of rains. Out here on the prairie when it rains, it pours, and usually it doesn’t rain. Over the past few weeks the weather radio sounded the alarm - Severe weather warning in Southern Lincoln County - Thunder storm alert with possible tornado sightings. The bands of storms tore through the area and carried with them some impressive hail. Damage by the large hail stones marked the storms’ paths. On one such evening, we watched the storms, with nearly constant lightning, passed to the south. At the same time, another storm crashed through to the north. We wondered, “Will we have a garden in the morning?” To our delight we were spared damage all summer. Corn fields destroyed to the north are evidence of the fury.

An artist’s brush could never have captured the lightning displayed so many times this summer. The variety of colors reflected in the clouds…the intensity of light blinded us for a time..the lightning bolts like claws tearing the fabric of the sky…the distant rumble of thunder almost soothing, followed by the thunder so close it shook the earth like a passing freight train. Power this great reminded me that I am not in control. There was fear in the storm, but also beauty, wonder, and awe.

Five Mile Falcons

It has been a rare treat to see a pair of Peregrine Falcons on county road S. Over the past two weeks, one then the other has positioned itself on the power pole five miles west of Karval. I never expected to see one - let alone two. I first saw the female with her dark head and brownish back. I thought it was a Prairie Falcon, more common in the area. I stopped to see her as she looked around and slowly lifted her wings in flight.

Then last week, I saw on the same pole what I thought was the same bird. When I got the car near and stopped, I could tell it was a male Peregrine Falcon - the black medieval mask dark against the white of the breast. I watched for several minutes before he took flight over the fields. The long, pointed wings - powerful like a jet fighter. I made a return to take a photo yesterday, and as would be expected, they were not there. However, I can still see them imprinted in my mind. Another amazing bird has been added to my Karval list.

Back to School Marks the Gathering of Birds

Well, everyone it has been too long since I have posted anything. It has been an event-filled summer. I must say I spent a lot of time recapturing my garden from the weeds. I left on several short trips and no one told the weeds to wait for me to get back.

We are now back in school- and busy is the operative word. So now the weeds are trying to gain ground again. We love the fresh produce and have enjoyed the corn finally ready to be slathered with butter and devoured. The beans and beets are now taking a back seat.

Every time we enter the garden the birds leave in small flocks. As the evenings cool and the days shorten, the birds begin to gather for the migration south. Congregating Lark Buntings are crowding the fence wires. Many large groups of Robins are in the neighborhood trees. In some of the rain-filled lowlands, small groups of shore birds are arriving. Some of the early immature birds getting a head start. Families of Swainson’s Hawks have taken rows of power poles. Burrowing Owls are still overseeing their favorite haunts.

All of the rains have greened up the prairie and have given Prairie Dogs a new place to establish homes. Fields of ripening corn and sunflowers are thick with birds hiding out. The ever changing farmlands are still drawing my attention. A photo in the morning light can’t capture the mood of sunrise on a field of sunflowers or the sun creeping up greeting a new day.