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158 Gone in November November in the Osage Hills is a time of transition. If the frosts are late, warm days and mild nights may linger well into the month. But the weather can also be fickle—one year on an early November day, the temperature dropped from a high in the seventies to the low teens within a few hours. The following morning, green leaves were frozen solid. They soon fell to the ground, a demoralizing gray-green. That November there were no reds, oranges, and bright yellows to accent the mists that hover over stream valleys on crisp mornings. Instead, the world turned from green to brown overnight. During more moderate Novembers, butterflies continue to search for the last of the autumn flowers and dragonflies dance over pools renewed by October rains. Unfortunately mosquitoes linger as well, along with the ticks that have been the bane of mammals large and small throughout the summer. Light frosts rarely kill late autumn asters,and day-flying insects continue to feast. But the most truthful voice of the season can be heard in the poignancy of field cricket chirping. The insect keys its cadence to temperature—rising or falling rates correspond to the thermometer . Slow, well-spaced calls on a chilly night seem edged with particular sadness due to the inescapable finality of the message. The season 159 Gone in November of sunlight, of flowers, trilling insects, and birdsong, is grinding to a halt. Impending change can also be witnessed in the increased angle of sunlight, a hard-edged autumn light that adds drama to November landscapes. A starkly defined autumn sunset seems a solar system away from the diffused light of summer, a flat light ripe with moisture, that can make distant horizons seem slightly out of focus in mid-June. The moon of November arrives amid restlessness. Hunters fidget from an ancestral urge to be afield,their edginess attuned to a seasonal clock that summons whitetail bucks out of the oaks. Pushing caution aside, the deer roam the prairie searching for hormonally charged scent, stopping periodically to polish headgear armament on some stunted redcedar, leaving behind glandular evidence of their passing. These scent posts and urine scrapes are the whitetail equivalent of billboards , proclaiming to rivals that the does of surrounding oak mottes and meadows must be recognized as the property of the messenger. Disputed messages may lead to physical confrontation, where older and wiser heads generally prevail. This period of hormonal dominance is glorious but short. A buck in his prime may dominate mating jousts for a few years, but in time antlers grow smaller, teeth succumb to wear, body mass shrinks, and a former monarch of the prairies may find himself skulking away in defeat following a fight with a younger buck. In the grand scheme of things, it’s simply a matter of a healthier animal infusing vitality into the gene pool, something essential to overall good health among all living things. I can recall frosty November nights under a full moon when trees stood like shadows pressed against a silver carpet of grass. Once, in the middle of a roadside meadow, a buck stood out, gray-brown winter coat reflecting liquid moonlight, antlers projecting the sheen of polished metal. The animal was in his prime, two hundred pounds or more, a snapshot of bloodshot passion. He was posed like a statue beneath twelve points of branching weaponry, neck swollen with a surge of testosterone. The moonlight presence of such a buck turns a frosty night into a fable, one with a tendency to linger and grow with each telling. Then, as if released from a spell of witchery, the majestic animal slipped back into the darkness and disappeared. Mature bucks, the survivors, use darkness as their ally. But the younger bucks, especially those approaching their second birthdays, generally pay little heed to 160 Gone in November break of day and continue to sniff for doe scent, hormones totally overwhelming any caution. As a result, these are the bucks that die by the thousands on late November mornings, as they carelessly traipse into the line of fire on opening day of deer season. At times it’s almost incredible to watch, the way these young bucks pester a doe coming into estrus. Once along the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River, I watched a desperate doe seeking respite from overbearing suitors race into a farmer’s front yard. It was midmorning, and she appeared exhausted by...


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MARC Record
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