A long 'short' walk in the outdoors

The Nature Call: Sights and sounds of an evening stroll

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Editor’s note: John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.

The farewell-to-the-day warbles from a robin caught my ear — a little known benefit to a poorly insulated house.

The robin said, “goodbye,” but I heard, “hello.” Beckoned outside, the calm invited me for a short stroll around the block.

The sunset was 8:45 p.m. and civil twilight stretched until 9:20, the sky overhead was the color of sacred blue. I walked south during this inbetween time, and then paused at the corner. Lingering, I felt like I was melting into this gentle June twilight scene.

 9:06: A couple was walking determinedly, their eyes were low — on the lookout for cracks. At their speed you’d have to. I turned and carried on, my eyes were up.

The wind was firm against the trees and me, a little unusual for the end of a summer day. I could hear the leaves rustle. It was a clearer sound than during the day, fewer distractions for my senses, I suppose. Do different species of trees have unique sounds? I’d like to think so.

“Pop!” Pop!” I scowled in the direction of the pyrotechnic disturbance to the peace. Sparklers were enough for me. Casement windows strained toward the street, extended like they were reaching for the fresh air. Most neighborhood homes were under the confines of air conditioning.

9:14: A bat hunted overhead. There are nine species native to Iowa. I can only name two, though I can recite every NFL team.

I swear the honey locust sounded different from the silver maple I just passed. Honey locusts naturally have thorns. The variety that grace our streets are a domesticated strain.

A basswood carried a few determined blooms. A stolen sniff was irresistible. You also can call the basswood “American Linden,” they don’t mind.

l 9:18: A beagle was baying in a large yard. I heard a distant train. Was the hound inspired to speak by that or some critter? I didn’t stop to ask. Around another corner. The change in direction changed the sounds and the feel of the wind.

9:22: From right to left a rabbit scampered across the walk and street. There’s only one species of rabbit here, their babies are born naked and blind. The white-tailed jack rabbit of our north western side is a hare. Its babies are born furred and sighted.

• 9:25: I passed a river birch, its leaves fluttered but made no sound. However the nearby Norway maple did enough talking for both of them. The Norway maple is an exotic species and many states list it as noxious, like a weed that needs pulling.

• 9:26: My first star, it was high and east. I glanced to the southern sky, anther twinkle. It was a reflection from Jupiter, a planet not a star. Was the eastern light from Hercules or Draco?

The light from Hercules is about 27 light-years old. Any light returned to him will be reached long after the little annoyances of our daily lives matter.

9:29: I turned the last corner, south again. The wind struck my ears at a new angle and the night sounds changed again, like they had an accent, just enough to notice.

By 9:30 I was in my drive. One more gaze skyward, the celestial bodies were appearing in earnest. I retreated from the great dusky world to my four walls and incandescent lights. I didn’t take 10,000 steps, though I did travel further.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

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