Thursday, September 24, 2015

Food Chain Blues

The annual toad population around the house has dwindled to nothing. I do not know the natural lifespan of a toad, but surely it is longer than two seasons? The plains garter snake eats toads here on the wild prairie, so perhaps there is a hungry snake helping itself to the toads. Eeeewwww. It would be unbelievably disturbing to be swallowed alive, whole and head first. Another revolting fact about garter snakes is they bear live young, up to 60 (SIXTY) at a time! (Why do I torture myself like this?)

All this needless horror and revulsion aside, I do not know for certain the toads met their fate as snake food. They may have found better habitat since it has been such a wet summer. Fortunately for me, the only snake I have seen this year is the big black snake that periodically visits the chicken pen searching for spare eggs. I had a chance to run that creature over with my car recently. The snake was jauntily making its way from the chicken pen when I backed down the drive. We caught sight of one another at the same instant. The snake froze, knowing it was likely doomed crossing the wide expanse of gravel at the bottom of the drive. There was no where to hide. I drove slowly past, giving it the evil eye with all my might, hoping it would take its graciously spared life to another county. It was in the chicken pen again a few days ago. It quickly hid beneath the coop, then lowered its evil head to look at me. I think it was it mocking me for being such a spineless human that I did not even try to kill it with the car.

Here is what I hope happens: the snake is allowed to eat all the eggs it wants - not on purpose but because I am too afraid to gather the eggs any more. Thanks to the enriched diet, it grows large enough to eat the pack rats that build nests under the hood of my car in the winter. Of course the snake must eat the rats before it hibernates. This might not be a good plan.

The tiny frogs from last summer, the ones that sprang wildly into the air, are also absent. Instead there are tiny frogs that can only hop a short distance, maybe six inches. I think I stepped on one of these little critters when I was taking groceries from the car. I noticed a tiny carcass on the driveway and felt a pang of regret. I may not have been the culprit because had I stepped on it, it should have been entirely flat and likely not even recognizable as a frog. It was probably me, though.

The other night one of the little frogs hopped into the garage ahead of me. Before I could redirect it back into the wild, it hopped beneath the stairs entirely out of my reach. I was too tired to deal with it so I put a flat plate of water on the floor by the steps. I hope it survives until I can open the garage doors all day, giving it a chance to escape into the prairie. The world needs all the toads and frogs it can possibly get.

Another predator has returned, one I welcome. There is a certain large dragonfly that hunts in the last hours of sunlight. It bears a vague resemblance to a Huey helicopter. They arrive in enormous numbers, hundreds filling the air above the lawn, apparently feasting on mosquitoes or insects too small for me to see. Though it looks chaotic as they dive and wheel and rush past my head, they never crash into me or one another. I first noticed them above Ginger's pen years ago when I fed her in the evening. The only thing I have not been observant enough to determine is how many days they live to fill the air with their amazing aerial assault.

And finally, at last, the winter's hay is stacked in the barn. The rainy weather this summer delayed the delivery for many weeks but now there is enough hay to feed the horses through the winter. It is a very good feeling to see the bales stacked in the barn. It is one less thing to worry about until cold weather next year. One less thing.