Although it is still early in the season, there are definite signs of a transition to autumn in the higher country.
In the valley summer is still sizzling hot and full on, but in the mountains the signs of autumn are slowly revealing. Grasses have dried to a golden brown, and the leaves of some shrubs and trees are already draining of green chlorophyll, revealing the reds, yellows and oranges of autumn.
Berries, red, purple, orange and white, have replaced their spring flowers with a show equally beautiful. Serviceberry, hawthorn, chokecherry, twinberry, huckleberries, Utah honeysuckle, snowberries and mountain ash will all help to sustain wildlife during autumn migration and through a snowy winter. This might seem like a one-way dance that benefits the animals but not the plants. But the choreography has been worked out over eons, with the plants providing nutritious food and the animals unwittingly passing many of the seeds through their gut—a journey many seeds require to germinate.
Some of our streams and rivers are dotted with strange flashes of red. These are mature kokanee salmon in spawning colors. They are headed to clean gravel beds within the streams where females will carve out redds and lay their eggs and hook-jawed males will cover them in a cloudy milt. In the spring, a new generation of kokanee will replace their parents, becoming part of the system, eating and being eaten, sustaining the web of life.
Bull elk have been bugling for over a week already, working toward yet another fever pitch as the reproductive rut peaks around the autumn equinox. If you are lucky, you will hear, or even see, two raging bulls fight to sort out who gets to breed and who does not.
Despite the still warm days, they are noticeably shorter now. The track of the sun has been steadily dropping and each day finds it a bit closer to the autumn equinox (September 22 this year) where it will shift from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere, signaling the official start of autumn.
Although an appreciation for winter has grown within my soul, I still treasure crisp autumn days as the most pleasant and satisfying of the entire year. I would gladly trade March, or even April here in Island Park, for a second September. I love all these changes yet there is one thing I will miss—the wildflowers.
This spring and summer I paid attention to the blooming and found joy in marking the progress of the season by the floral show. Yellow and delicate, nodding glacier lilies started it before the snow had even left. By June fields of mule’s ear and camas dominated, as visually stunning as a classical painting. Mid-summer found mariposa lilies, lupines, geraniums, yarrow and, in wetter areas, elephantheads, delphinium and monkshood all blooming in profusion. Indian paintbrush and purple-spiked fireweed followed. These flowers served their purpose, producing the seed necessary to continue the species, and are now dry and ready to spread their seed by wind, wildlife or mechanical means.
Autumn isn’t devoid of flowers. Notably, rabbitbrush and sagebrush both flower into late fall. Indeed, the scent of sagebrush flowers is as integral to autumn as the quaver of aspen leaves. Their seeds ripen as the snow begins to cover the ground. Winds distribute these tiny seeds (around one million seeds in a pound of pure seed) on top of the snow where they wait for spring.
With so much happening now and with the immediate future my favorite time of the year, mourning the flowers of spring and summer will be an ephemeral thing. That is an enviable situation to be in.
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