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About Time

August 11, 2016

The mosquito fern that covered the eastside Delta Ponds’ surfaces with dramatic purple the past two winters had nearly disappeared by late spring of this year. The duckweed family overtook the mosquito fern and turned the ponds green, much to the gustatory delight of the waterfowl. Suddenly, in July, the mosquito fern has made a resurgence and may regain dominance; observations to come. Even the green is different. Instead of common duckweed, the green is dominated by the tiny water meal (Wolffia) of the flowering duckweed family.

July 7, 2016

By July, gardens are burgeoning with flowers and vegetables. They will thrive through the summer only if we pay diligent attention to adequate watering. Digital hose timers are great for extended trips out of town. We also have to deal with combatting weeds and pests. I wrestle with use of poisons. Slug bait offends my organic sensibilities but it seems the only effective way to keep snails away from our hostas and lilies.

June 2, 2016

Summer solstice is arguably the most significant of all solar events. That the sun shone straight down a well in Syrene, Egypt, every summer solstice day gave Eratosthenes the insight for determining the Earth’s circumference 2,200 years ago. Stone monuments worldwide are aligned to commemorate this longest day of the year. The bronze sighting monument on the summit of Mount Pisgah has slots that line up with sunrise and sunset on the solstice.

May 5, 2016

The leaves of the cottonwood trees are now all expanded. The crown is full and gradually changing shades from a bright spring green to a tough, dark summer green. The heron nests I have been following seem to be doing well. They are now hard to see in the foliage; careful binocular study was necessary to be absolutely sure the four nests are still in place. The leaf cover doesn’t allow me to see much activity in the nest. I just have to imagine nestlings having their fish dinners delivered on a proper schedule.

April 7, 2016

April is one of the two busiest months of spring in the Willamette Valley. The native wildflowers are blooming in greater and greater profusion, the peak burst extending into May. With the abundance of flowers, butterflies and other pollinators become increasingly visible.

March 3, 2016

As the vernal equinox passes this month, the spring waves of wildflower blooms increase in breadth and vigor. Like the waves crashing on the beach, they are in constant motion yet precisely defined at any instant. Unlike the waves of the ocean, waves of blooming are so slow the human eye cannot detect any motion. Every flower has a slow but steady dance that one must visualize mentally to appreciate its blossoming. This is what makes time-lapse movies of flowers opening so appealing; they give the impression of inexorable actions being speeded up, constantly moving.

February 4, 2016

Nature is stirring from her winter rest. She begins leisurely with buds slowly expanding and showing light green in the cracks of the bud scales. Indian plum is the first to be noticed because its eye-level buds are so big and flowers burst from them by the middle of February. I keep a sharp eye on the snowberry bushes because their early spring leaves join the Indian plum for the earliest flush of green in the valley forest understory. Snowberry flowers are much later, however, so the spring buds are small. Pussy-willow buds show fuzz soon.

January 7, 2016

Kind of like in summer, the winter Solstice just slipped by with nary a wink or a nod. The approach is so gradual in both ways that only a calendar watcher (or member of a pagan community) knows for sure what day to celebrate Solstice. The extra rainy December meant that it was cloudy most nights. Night sky changes were hard to follow despite regular bedtime walks. I have seen Orion less than five times since he first returned to the night sky.

December 3, 2015

Early morning sun comes through a south window these days, blinding me when I read the paper. In summer the blinding morning sun shines through a window about ten feet north. The two windows create a seasonal sundial. Sunny mornings are pretty scarce this time of the year, even when days end up sunny. By sunset the the air is filled with moisture. Cool nights and a chilly dawn turns moist air into dense fog in the valley floor. Only after the sun warms the fog banks late in the morning does a sunny day show its predicted blue skies.

November 5, 2015

November is the month to drain and roll up the garden hoses. It is important to take timers and other freezing sensitive equipment indoors for the winter. Be prepared to wrap the outside faucets. It wouldn’t hurt to give the plants in the yard one final, gentle feeding of fertilizer.  

October 1, 2015

Well, the summer has slipped past the equinox without much fanfare, as usual. All we need is for the rainy season to begin and fall will be here. When the bigleaf maple loses its leaves, the licorice ferns uncurl on its branches. Or, as they say in Alaska, “when the fireweed goes to cotton, the summer’s soon forgotten.”

September 10, 2015

September is usually the best month for hiking in the Cascades. The trails are free of snow, and both tourist and mosquito levels have diminished. This year has become a down year for hiking, however, with the extended drought bringing on our worst fire season ever. Ever! We all hope that the rainy season will begin soon after the equinox instead of its usual start sometime in October.

August 6, 2015

This year August is set up with a glorious week of stargazing. The Perseid meteor shower will send hundreds, maybe thousands, of shooting stars across the sky during the second week of August. Peak shower activity will be August 11-13. The best meteor watching will be in the hours before dawn, when the constellation Perseus rises from the northeastern horizon. What makes this year’s shower likely to be spectacular is that nearly moonless nights coincide with the peak streaking.

July 2, 2015

Hot weather is great for the bugs. Swallowtails and dragonflies dart around with incredible zip in the morning sun, their warm bodies full of energy. Spiders are getting prominent now, with dozens of little, baby spider webs all around our house. They protect us from mosquitoes. When approached they shake their webs vigorously, supposedly to make themselves appear a blur and not catchable by potential predators.

June 4, 2015

Nesting season is coming to a close this month, easily noticed with geese and turkey nestlings that leave their nests and swim or run right after hatching. One of the enjoyable sights of early summer is watching a troop of goslings or chicks paddling or scurrying around after their parents. They are out feeding for themselves, learning how to find and handle their food by following their parents. Most songbird babies stay in the nest until they are ready to fly. After they fledge and leave the nest, they are pretty much on their own.

May 7, 2015

May is the month of peak flowering in the southern Willamette Valley. Riparian galleries, oak woodlands and grassy hillsides are awash in a glorious array of nature’s prize beauties. This season is celebrated every year at the Mount Pisgah Arboretum with a spectacular wildflower show. The Wildflower Festival is May 17, as always the first Sunday after Mother’s Day. Music, food and crafts are all available. As part of the festival activities, I will lead a nature walk and give a talk about fringecup, Tellima grandiflora, the Flower of the Year.

April 2, 2015

Do birds return to the same nest year after year? All winter, when the deciduous trees are bare, I look at clots of debris high in their branches and try to pick out which are just clumps of leaves and which are nests. The obstacle to solving this puzzle is that the old nests are obscured by leaves by the time birds might come back. The trees leaf out before most birds begin nesting. It’s hard to tell if the nests are used again.

March 5, 2015

The gray whale cows and their calves are migrating north in good numbers this month. I finally visited the most fabulous place to watch whales: the shelter at the top of the Saint Perpetua Trail. The hike is very steep but a road allows one to drive up. Go early in the day, as the parking lot at the top is small. There are often volunteers with spotting scopes at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center. They have information on how many whales are passing that day.

February 5, 2015

Looking up at a rare starry sky in January, even rarer because of a warm night, I was drawn to do a little star gazing. Orion is heading out west long before midnight. I’m going to miss him because there is no summer character in the sky that I know well enough to track the spring-summer-fall passage. Maybe a little gazing this July will find the constellation that attracts my focus.

January 8, 2015

A year ago the eastside Delta Ponds had already frozen solid. Ice was an inch thick under seven inches of snow and thawed completely by the New Year. In February another snowfall was accompanied by a freezing rain the likes of which we hadn’t seen for many years. It was hard on the birdwatchers and really hard on the birds. Hummingbird feeders froze.

December 4, 2014

The duckweed and mosquito fern have been blown to the southeast corner of the pond. It means the wind is coming out of the northwest and it will be cold and rainy. I can feel it in the air; I can smell it swirling around me. It is the source of my joy of walking outdoors. I believe that the feel and smell of nature constitute a subliminal elixir to counteract the poisons of urban living. Even in town, it is important to preserve walking paths through woodlands and prairies in our neighborhood parks. A session on a treadmill in a gym just cannot substitute.

November 6, 2014

The extended summer dry spell has turned into a warm rainy period. No frost yet, nor even any really cold nights, although the average first frost date is long past. It means the leaves on the bigleaf maples haven’t been triggered to produce the golden color seen in most years. Instead, the dry leaves just turn brown and fall off while the rest are still green. The tar spot fungus doesn’t have its usual green halo on a golden background because its spores are maturing early, sustained by the whole green leaf.

October 2, 2014

The weekend after Labor Day brought the sight of thousands of choice edible russula mushrooms around Waldo Lake, but most were dry as a bone. A single thunderstorm’s drenching a week earlier brought them out of the forest floor. Then they were betrayed by the summer’s continuing heat and drought. Nevertheless, we can be hopeful that the usual October beginning of the rainy season may yet bless the high mountains with a bounty of delicious treasures. We will find out at the mushroom show at Mount Pisgah Arboretum on Oct. 26.

September 4, 2014

September is a subtle month. Its changes creep up without being readily noticed. Daylength shortens most rapidly around the equinoctes. We come to realize that summer is over and fall is practically upon us. It is typically a sunny month, one of the best for hiking in the mountains. Nights can be quite chilly but the absence of mosquitoes makes watching the campfire a treat.