September Skies, Magnificent Creatures

poplarskyzirkle16by Jon Zirkle, Director of Agroecology Summer Intensive at Merry Lea

My teaching in the Agroecology Summer Intensive has been completed, and since fall is my favorite season, I’m now reveling in the beauty that autumn brings with its glorious light and color displays. My eyes are better attuned to the wildness of my surroundings here at Merry Lea and during my commute to work.

A few weeks ago, I was walking the path over to Kesling wetland only to stop for a minute and look up at the sky, outlined with the quaking of poplar leaves against a blue sky and tiny cotton ball clouds. Bees hovered happily over the tops of mustardy goldenrod.  The timing was all too perfect for a quick photograph.  The image seemed to capture my end-of-summer associations here at Merry Lea: change is in the air, harvest is still at full throttle, and we delight in the goodness of Creation.

I’ve been enjoying the sunrises on the way to work as well. The clouds in the morning have been watery and seemingly hint at rain coming, even though the past week has been a dry spell. Soon, we won’t be seeing these types of clouds as much, I tell myself.  For now, I like to remember that much of September is technically still summer, even if our calendars tell us it is ‘fall.’

hornworms from garden at Merry Lea Sustainable Farm
Andy Ammons with hornworms found in the gardens at Merry Lea.

I can’t help looking down as well as up. When I’m weeding or harvesting, I discover the beauty of the insect world, the intricacy of late summer flowers and the strangely grotesque small phenomena happening in the vegetable beds and in our perennial spaces.  I’ve seen the stalking praying mantis on prairie grasses and enjoyed the discoveries of tobacco hornworms with colleagues Kate Friesen and Biology Professor Andy Ammons. One morning, I was in awe to discover a tiny jumping spider on the porch dragging away some true bug that was surely three times it’s size and body weight.  The tiny creatures are amazing. If only I carried a hand lens or a microscope around in my back pocket to see these wonders more closely.


The farm here at Rieth Village–Merry Lea Sustainable Farm—is also alive lately with human visitors that we aren’t used to entertaining in large numbers.  We recently hosted Goshen College students from the Biological Sciences Department and prospective students interested in environmental science. Small children arrive several times a week for our new fall field program called ‘Exploring Merry Lea Sustainable Farm. Their presence enables students in the Masters of Arts in Environmental Education program to hone their teaching skills.  Everyone seems refreshed to encounter the sounds of hungry pigs, the curiosity of teenage turkeys, the buzz of bees, and the bounty in the fields of heirloom vegetables and herbs.  Kate and I are so pleased to hear the sounds of laughter on a daily basis.  We are blessed to be familiar with these wild creatures that many have never before encountered up close.

We usher in the rich days of late September, reminded that ebbs and flows are constantly taking place wherever we are.  Wherever you are, drink in the changes of late September.