6:29 a.m. 46 degrees, wind SE 2 mph. Sky: a long, mauve-edged cloud in the
west, embossed in powder blue; along the opposite horizon, a congress of
smaller, whiter clouds scuds north. Intermittent streams: dry, again.
Permanent streams: less emphatic—less turbulent, less water, less
babble—flowing at approximately half capacity. Wetlands: sparse ground fog
low, wide bands higher; along the far shoreline, jagged evergreens and
gaunt hardwoods softened by mist, framed by the long, dark, mauve-edged
cloud. Pond: sparsely carpeted, pine needles and yellow leaves, mostly
black cherry. Big-toothed aspen leaves, signs of yellowing.
AOR: red eft, cold and motionless, an orange salamander en route to a tan
marsh, escorted off the road
Red-shouldered hawk, aloft at dawn, cries, the shrillness of a cool
morning. How much longer will he punctuate my walks?
As the leaves come down, bald-faced hornet nests suddenly appear in the
woods, unmasked by a downpour of red and yellow. They hang from stout
limbs, suspended like Christmas ornaments. One October, several years ago,
I found a hornet nest on an outer maple branch, a metropolis of predatory
insects; until the leaves came down, I never knew they were there. The boys
and I had collected garter snakes below the nest. Apparently, I never
raised my head.
The nest, stark against the setting sun, was eighteen inches long, tapered
on either end, gray as the winter sky. Pregnant queen hornets winter in
mouse holes and crevices and any remaining hornets had already been killed
by frost. I wanted to filet the nest, to have the boys feel the texture of
hornet paper, see the horizontal layers of brood cells that the paper
covers, each cell a perfect hexagon. I assumed we'd find some pupae,
larvae, eggs, and incipient queens and drones, one per cell, harmlessly
frozen in place, transitory fossils.
Since heights are not my forte, I would need help to retrieve the nest,
perhaps a cherry picker and a Green Mountain Power linesman. Unexpectedly
and unwittingly, an ally appeared. One afternoon, as I lunched in the
dining room, gazing mindlessly out the window, I noticed a pair of black
wings on either side of the nest, flicking. Standing precariously on
spindly branches, a crow tore off pieces of hornet paper, which floated
like confetti into the pasture. When the hole was large enough, the crow
began to eat frozen hornets.
A second crow appeared and pestered the first, which tried to fly off with
a large chunk of the nest. The crow dropped its booty, which I retrieved.
Then, my boys acquainted themselves with the inner working of a bald-faced
hornet's nest and the catholic diet of crows . . . and the joyousness of
Late last night, the voice of a lonesome snow goose floated through the