THROUGH THE WOODS: Summer cannot end

White-tailed deer buck in velvet. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

IT WAS LATE AFTERNOON of a beautiful day when a large deer burst out of the woods on a dead run into the field. Sometimes biting flies will drive a deer crazy or a coyote. This deer had strange horns and binoculars clarified the situation. He stopped for a minute and incredibly, his 8-point rack was pink. The eyes looked wild as he panted and shook his head.

This time of year the weather starts to cool and daylight decreases, triggering the fall rut or our white tail deer mating season. It signals hormones to change and the velvet on the antlers becomes irritated. The brown, blood-filled covering nourished the horn as it began growing in June, and now bucks try to get rid of it by rubbing their horns on bushes and saplings until the velvet hangs off in tattered shreds. The buck in the field had removed it all, leaving the newly uncovered antlers light pink with blood running down his face. Tines were intact and when dry and fully hardened he would be a formidable opponent to other bucks in the area.

There had been several bucks grazing together as summer pals and now they have separated and been chased out by this big boy. Aggressive competition for does ends friendships. Most of the fawns are losing their spots, are bigger and plump from grazing clover from the field, and more independent from their mothers. Their winter grayish hair is coming in and the reddish summer coat is mottled and fading. The does and bucks change coats too. The gray, coarser hair is hollow, which provides strength and better insulation against cold and snow. Does are becoming more nervous and look over their shoulders between bites of grass. The young still do not have a clue but follow their elders or get out of the way. Their peaceful summer is ending.

The crickets and katydids are singing, most of the hot weather locusts have stopped. The swallows have joined up to form clouds of hundreds and thousands heading south. Many birds follow our Hudson River to warmer places with more food. Nature is ever changing, with predictable seasonal patterns which give us stability in this very bizarre pandemic year.

For me, summer cannot end this year. The Columbia County Fair has been the end of summer for six-plus generations of my family. Fair Board President Nelson R. Alford, Jr. stated online that “this would have marked the 180th consecutive Columbia County Fair. It has prevailed through the Civil War, the Spanish Flu and two world wars, but the health and safety of our patrons, our employees, our exhibitors and our vendors require that the 180th annual Columbia County Fair must be postponed until September of 2021.” So, my summer will end in in September 2021. Thankfully, I can take solace from the natural world and be happy as it carries on as usual.

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