First blood

grooming pileateds 1

View the slideshow.

Autumn has come to Margaret’s Woods: to the sawhorse and the stump, the tangled beds of hayscented fern and Japanese stiltgrass. The blood-colored Japanese barberry bushes are festooned with rows of scarlet berries and a scattering of fallen maple leaves impaled on their thorns. Feathered migrants learn the way to the best fruit from the early colors: wild gravevines are turning yellow, and the Virginia creepers are red flames against the pale trunks of white oaks. Hercules’-club trees are bowing under the weight of their monstrous purple heads, and their three-foot-long, triply-compound leaves fall nearly intact in the rush to bare their goods.

It’s a cool morning. A cranefly sits motionless on a blackberry leaf, too cold to fly. A pair of pileated woodpeckers, year-round residents too young to remember when this 100-acre deer-ravaged savanna was a mature forest, sun themselves at the top of an oak snag already dead when the loggers came through, one dry, beautiful autumn just like this. Their red crests blaze as they groom themselves, finding insect nourishment under their own black bark. This morning, a new autumn color — hunter’s orange — has entered the woods, and with luck, the first arrows will find their targets and water the parched ground with fresh blood.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).


  1. I watch the slideshow first, and I’m struck by the silence. Why I want some music with it, I don’t know. Then your post plays music.


  2. I love the vivid imagery, particularly in the first paragraph. Here in Aotearoa, of course, we’re heading the other way — the clocks went forward an hour last night. (I’d have viewed the slideshow but this dialup connection’s just too sluggish).

    Be careful in those woods while the hunters are there, Dave.


  3. Right, that’s it – I’m on the next plane out. An intoxicating description of time & place.


  4. Peter – Music, eh? I could always assemble one of those cheesy YouTube slideshows…

    pohanginapete – You have daylight savings time down there, too? I’m sorry. Dreadful custom.

    I actually thought of linking to a slideshow because I thought that might be a better approach for slow-modem readers than waiting for an image-laden post to load. Guess not!

    Dick – Really? Thanks. You are, of course, welcome to stay here as long as you like, should you ever manage to cross the pond.


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