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Eugene Weekly : It's About Time : 10.20.11




By David Wagner

Northwestern garter snake, Thamnophis ordinoides

The equinox brought the last day of summer and probably one of the last hot days of the year. Rain is anticipated to arrive this month as the official NOAA long term forecast is for a normal climate regime. Mushroom hunters await rain’s arrival anxiously. The October mushroom show at the Mount Pisgah Arboretum depends on it.

That hot day found a cloud of gnats hovering in still air by the Delta Ponds. It reminded me of my friend, Marge, who turned 93 this year and is now largely confined to a wheelchair. Years ago she showed us how to herd gnats. Approaching a cloud with outstretched arms, she gathered it in and brought it to me. I received it very slowly and took it to the next person. With slow, deliberate movements, we were able to pass the cloud from one person to the next. Dancing with gnats is like dancing with smoke.

Returning from a walk with burrs in my socks and our dog’s fur demonstrates that seed dispersal is under way. Seeds await the onset of the rainy season, too. Conifers shower huge rains of seeds from their cones. Only a tiny percent are viable. Their strategy is to deceive seed eaters into thinking all are empty, thus deterring them from spending time picking through the empties looking for the good ones.

Baby garter snakes are about, born recently. They are so vulnerable that we will not see many next spring. Automobiles and phobias are their worst enemies. 

David Wagner is botanist who lives and works in Eugene. He teaches moss classes and leads nature walks. He may be reached at fernzenmosses@me.com