Heartspoken’s View from the Bench series

I began this series of posts in late June, 2014, with a goal of teaching myself how to be more observant by exploring a small piece of the world right outside my door at different times of the year. You can do this yourself, whether you live in a country home or a city high rise. I’m stepping outside to sit on the Trex bench right underneath my kitchen window for no more than 10 to 20 minutes—equipped only with my cell phone’s camera, a pair of binoculars, pen, and pad of paper—and report my observations: sights, sounds, smells, sensations. Call it a micro-exploration, but I think it will be fun to do it at different times of the year and watch the changes. We may not discover anything earth-shattering, but I’m sure by this time next year, we’ll have trained ourselves to pay just a little closer attention to the tiny wonders all around us. To find all the posts in this series, use the category drop-down list in the right sidebar. You’ll find “View from the Bench” under “Connect with Nature.”

Deer grazing to right.

White-tailed deer, center right. Near right figure is a bird-shaped piece of garden statuary.

High summer in the Shenandoah Valley

At 5:30pm on a late July afternoon, I step outside to sit on my bench. The hot, sticky air hits me like a sauna, feeling much hotter than the 80 degrees on my thermometer.

I have to go back inside to get a towel to wipe the moisture off the bench, and when I sit down, I notice there are still puddles in the driveway from last night’s storm. The bird bath is full too, but the patio bricks have dried up from baking in the sun. I swear I can feel an invisible steam rising from them.

Towards the barn, a lone white-tailed deer grazes in the yard, no doubt savoring the tender clover and fescue. She meanders slowly towards the woods, heading for whatever thicket she calls home. We have about nine regulars, and two of them have significant antlers already. They wreak havoc on my plantings, but I still love to watch them.

Bees and wasps buzz around the hummingbird feeders and hover over blossoms of the lamb’s ear and herbs in my flowerbed. They land to sip a taste of nectar before moving to another spot. Many environmentalists are concerned about the well-being of these important pollinators.

I felt a wisp of a breeze when I first sat down, but now, a few minutes later, it’s very still. The fern next to me only stirs when a Japanese beetle lands and begins to crunch on its leaves.

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Two hummingbird feeders

Hummingbirds: stars of the show

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My new hummingbird feeder

Three ruby-throated hummingbirds are whizzing right past me in and out of the feeder area, and I can’t tell if they are playing or chasing each other away. I know they’re very territorial, but occasionally I glimpse the rhythmic back and forth arc of the male trying to get the attention of the female. A flash of brilliant red catches my eye as another swoops in to take repeated sips of sugar water. Soon another arrives, and they all race off in hot pursuit to land in a nearby apple tree, their chatter sounding for all the world like laughter. Are they laughing at me? I’m fascinated how easily they coexist with wasps at the feeders. I’ve put up a new hummingbird feeder with a different design from the old one. The man at the Wild Birds store told me they had redesigned it to improve the angle of the bird’s reach to get nectar. It took several days for them to feel comfortable with it, but now it seems to get as much feeding action as the other red feeder. My beautiful blown glass globe feeder that my daughter and her husband gave me is not quite as popular, but I still see it used enough to keep it up.

Predators nearby

From the woods, I hear the shrill cry of a hawk. We’ve seen two Cooper’s hawks recently in the yard. The other day, a pair were perched on a dead tree branch, surveying their feeding options below. Once we saw one swooping low and fast across the grass, apparently in chase of some prey. I also hear the hiss of what I believe is a red-tailed hawk.

Perhaps because I’m sitting still, it’s feeling cooler. The Northern Cardinal calls repeatedly from the Catalpa tree.

Johnny mowed yesterday, so I’m enjoying the uniquely summer fragrance of fresh-cut grass.

I hear the drumming of a woodpecker, but I can’t see him, and I haven’t learned to identify these birds by their pecking sound.

A fly buzzes around my head and departs quickly.

20 minutes after I first spotted the deer, she has disappeared into the woods. Now the only creature I can see on the lawn is a lone bunny rabbit. We’ve had more rabbits this year than usual, and I’m surprised not to see any squirrels today.

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View straight ahead from my bench

Action overhead

The sky is azure, with cotton candy clouds moving by at a pace that belies the calm here on the ground. The distant drone of a jet plane is the only sound that seems out of place in this peaceful, rural spot.

The sound of our metal roof buckling reminds me how easily metal expands and contracts with temperature changes.

Suddenly, I’m aware of the cicadas. Have they been there all along and I’m just hearing them? I can’t even think how to describe the sound…a hum with static? Entomologists call it a song or a chirp, but it’s more electronic than that to me. It rises to a  crescendo, then drops off and repeats again in waves.

Ahhhh, a breeze wafts across my face, and I hear a dog barking by the river.

The difference in my view from the bench between late June and late July is not so dramatic, but as fall comes, the changes will be fascinating.

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