Rabbitbrush Rambler: Natural events

Last week when eclipse-chasers were zooming down the highway, I hoped that a few slowed down long enough to notice the wildflowers. Call them weeds if you wish, but they are beautiful at present.

The changing parade of flowers depends on weather and altitude too. Here in the Valley it would be hard to miss the Prairie Sunflowers that have responded with a bang to the rains we’ve had in the past few weeks.

If we go up into the mountains, we will be enjoying roadsides ablaze with masses of pink fireweed, red Indian paintbrush, and blue penstemon. Earlier visitors to the cooler high country could see the columbines that were honored in our state song long before John Denver’s popular “Rocky Mountain High” came along. I love the banks of columbine at the visitor center in South Fork, too.

Before the sunflowers that are now so prolific, we had a stretch down in the Valley when rain was sparse, and we saw few of the tall white candelabras on yucca plants. Soon after rains brought the sunflowers, though, we’ll be noticing bountiful purple asters along highways, in meadows, and in neglected edges of our yards. (But let’s hope we don’t see big patches of whitetop, an unwelcome invasive weed.)  

Following the asters, we’ll have lots of golden rabbitbrush out in the chico until cold and snow finally turn it brown too, signifying winter (brrr).

Unless weather events interrupt, everything seems to happen in cycles like clockwork. The rotations of the earth go round and round, night follows day, and tides come in and go out as if the moon is pulling a string. Even wildlife can anticipate changing seasons and prepare for them, although I’m not sure how their internal mechanisms operate. Maybe someone else will tell us.

But there are unexpected ways that wildlife responds to unexpected events like eclipses. Last week I was interested in reading anecdotes about animals during the total solar eclipse. Friends who went north to Nebraska report that the birds just quieted down during the short period of darkness.

I’m one of the strange people who once traveled all the way from Colorado nearly to Canada to see a total lunar eclipse. We stayed at the hotel in Williston, North Dakota, and attended an informative evening program that had been arranged by the hospitable community for us lunar visitors. (This was a few years before the oil-and-gas industry totally changed that nice area.)

Around midnight we drove out to a location in the countryside to observe the eclipse. So there I was, with my camera set up on a tripod and clicking shots as the shadow of the earth began to across the full moon, obscuring it, and beginning to pass.

Then I noticed motion on the ground nearby. Jackrabbits were running around. The evening’s lecturer had not prepared me for that.

Jackrabbits do normally run around at night and eat Farmer Brown’s haystack and get squished on  highways, but their frantic behavior that night during the eclipse looked to me like alarm. Maybe they feared that the darkness was caused by a predator passing overhead. Then the shadow of the eclipse and the agitated rabbits disappeared. Back to the haystack.

If a really abnormal event happened, like the climate getting warmer or stormier for years and years, the rabbits and my grandchildren would really have something to worry about then. Smart human beings would call it climate change and would start making some lifestyle changes.

Events don’t always meet our normal expectations, so take a few minutes to enjoy the wildflowers while they last.