October is that charming time when two seasons wrestle for dominance and create a matchless time of contrasts and beauty.
The autumn-colored aspen leaves outside my window peak out beneath a thick layer of snow. Tonight, temperatures are expected to drop to the low 20’s and more snow is expected tomorrow. By the end of the week though, sunny and highly fishable afternoons will prevail.
This is October, the transition month. The burnished days of September are in the rearview mirror and winter can be seen through the portal to November, but October can be both glorious and fierce, sometimes in the same day. Through October, we watch the leaves shun the final bits of chlorophyll and reveal their true colors, then fade, curl and die, adding to the mulch of the forest floor while their parent trees stand naked against the coming winter. Snow that frosts the higher peaks in October will likely see next May. Lower down, snow is like a deer, adding grace to the moment, then disappearing as if it had never been there at all. Two seasons tug at October and while we know which will prevail, it is the struggle that affords us some uniquely beautiful moments and make the change memorable, not regrettable.
October is a busy time in the woods, fields and marshes. For the most part, the baby-raising days are long past and getting ready for the winter months is a preoccupation for many animals. Bears are famous for packing on the pounds in preparation for a long winter’s nap. Bruins are not the only ones concerned with bulking up their body fat though. Elk and deer depend upon fat stores, sometimes referred to as portable winter range, to see them through until spring. October is the last chance to build reserves before they begin to burn them to supplement sparse winter forage.
Animals that store food have October to get it done before snow and ice lock up food sources until spring. A walk through a forest will reveal piles of pine cones tucked against logs and rocks, the red squirrel’s answer to winter scarcity. Pikas gather the remaining green vegetation, storing it in hay piles deep within their rocky domains. Clark’s nutcrackers stockpile seeds in hundreds of locations.
October is also the springboard for movement. As the month progresses, the croaking of sandhill cranes blends with goose music as waterfowl in growing numbers wing south. Bighorn sheep and other ungulates are poised for migration, wanting to extract the last remnants of nutrition from summer range plants but anxious to beat the heavy snows on their pathways to winter range. A heavy snowstorm is all the impetus they need to start moving toward winter range.
While October is marked by departures, it is interesting that some northern species—rough-legged hawks and trumpeter swans come to mind—seem to believe that our winters are balmy compared to their northern summer homes, and choose to winter here. And I suppose that in that comparison they are correct. I would prefer ten degrees Fahrenheit over minus 50 any day.
On Halloween, when the door swings shut on October, change will be the single word that best describes the month. Seasons will have transitioned; the world will be prepared for winter’s rest. October has been the buffer ensuring that the shift of seasons is orderly and usually gentle, filling us with anticipation for the coming season.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho