By David Wagner
December is the rainiest month of the year in the Willamette Valley. Outside it is wet, cold and still, nothing much happening. Or so you’d think. The illusion of stillness in winter is betrayed by the steady, hidden pulse of regeneration. Remarkable things are happening. Great horned owls are breeding, salmon are spawning, mosses are making new shoots, gray whales are headed south. Solstice passes on the 21st.
Millions and millions of insects are undergoing metamorphosis. Insects in pupa stage are hiding out underground, in fallen leaves, in tree bark crevices, in cocoons hanging under branches, in your house siding cracks. Inside their pupal shells the innards of caterpillars and grubs have turned into an amorphous jelly. Like magical shape shifters, when they are ready to emerge next spring their bodies will have been transformed into walking, flying, buzzing adults.
Transformation is also happening in every plant. Douglas-fir needles are getting fat. Winter annuals such as bittercress, bedstraw, and chickweed have already sprouted. Cut open a woody plant bud and you’ll see partly formed leaves and flowers. In time, flowers will spring forth when buds burst. But quietly now they grow, each part forming in tight symmetry.
Share this wonder with a friend or family member. Have a botanist friend show you some osoberry. Every two weeks or so, pick some buds and cut them open, examining the contents with a handlens. Make sketches, take photos, note weather, keep a nature diary. Be the first to see osoberry bloom!
David Wagner is a botanist who has worked in Eugene for more than 30 years. Every year he makes the Willamette Valley Nature Calendar, available this month at Down to Earth and the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History.