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About Time

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.

August 6, 2014

The first flock of wild turkeys showed up in our neighborhood last year. Adults and young together were nine. This year our flock has 22 chicks alone. Early in the morning they show little fear and are easy to count. I think it is the fruit trees in our neighborhood that they like. One of the birds really stands out; its feathers are pure white, an inescapable tag that draws attention.

July 9, 2014

We expect July to deliver a month of warm soil in the garden. There is a certain sensual pleasure gotten from dragging fingers through moist soil when weeding or planting. Bare hands, no gloves. As sensual pleasures go, this is both beneficial and acceptable in public.

June 12, 2014

In the Willamette Valley the farmers markets are flush with vegetable garden starts. Our traditional vegetable season starts late because of our typical cool spring but lasts long into the fall. I harvest hot peppers in October. I encourage supporting the local organic farmers by buying well-rooted starts. For a small garden, it seems to make more sense than investing in starting from seed indoors. Only my peas and beans are seeded directly into the ground, one following the other.

May 1, 2014

I believe there is no bird call more joyous than a robin at sunrise. Chickadees are definitely cheery this season but robins deserve the main stage for pure joy. Enthusiastic males declare to any lady robin in hearing distance that he offers the best territory. Once eggs are laid, it is the crowing of fatherhood.

April 3, 2014

The romantic song of chickadees cheering up the morning is living proof of the arrival of spring. When the sun comes out after a heavy rain shower, all the birds sing joyfully. There will be more and more vegetable starts in racks outside the local market while the neighborhood gardens are dominated by spring blooming flowers. It is really too early to plant much besides peas and onions. It is not too early to clean up the beds to stay ahead of the weeds.

March 6, 2014

March is the month when the valley woodlands begin greening up. Two shrubs, osoberry and snowberry, are the first to give a light green wash to the understory. The osoberry (also known as Indian plum) flowers at the same time as leaf-out but snowberry saves flowering for late spring. My favorite color is spring green, the color of freshly emerged leaves. I am particularly fond of vine maple because its leaves stay this fresh, spring green throughout the summer, especially under a forest canopy.

February 13, 2014

“Typical is not normal; normal is not typical” is my weather mantra. This year is no exception to the Rule of Exceptionality. I have always believed that Oregon weather was more variable from year to year, each year more likely to be an exception to normal greater than in other parts of the country. The growing season is less predictable as a consequence. Now that climate change is becoming more and more evident across the continent, testing my belief has become more difficult.

January 9, 2014

Last month the east Delta Ponds froze and then seven inches of snow fell, making for a rare and beautiful scene. When the snow melted on a single warm day, the ponds revealed dozens of patches of tapering, branching, clear lines radiating outwards from one point. These patterns were evenly spread across the ponds, three to 10 feet in diameter, over inch-thick ice. The mechanism behind the formation of these patterns is a topic of debate among my geophysical friends.

December 5, 2013

Darkness comes early in December, now that midwinter is upon us. Remembering that Solstice isn’t until four days before Christmas, long nights are going to be around for a couple of months. We treasure clear, chilly nights when the stars put on a show from early in the evening. I mark the yearly cycle with only one constellation: Orion of Winter. It is the easiest to recognize, after the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. Orion has three bright stars decorating his belt; his sword marked by four close, smaller stars angling off below.

November 7, 2013

This fall there is a new flock of nine turkeys that circulate through our neighborhood, snooping down our street every other day. Their core must come from the ones that nested on the butte above our home this past spring. The turkey chicks that left the nest in April are now the size of their parents. We are not sure what they find to eat in their foraging; hope their menu includes slugs and snails.

October 10, 2013

The chanterelle season got a bountiful start this year. A dry summer favors high production in this mushroom. Then rains followed by a warm spell made the first flush not only plentiful but with wonderful shape and form.

September 12, 2013

It’s that time of year when the birds are getting restless. Migration is stirring in their bones — hollow bones evolved for long-distance flight. We expect thousands of Vaux’s swifts to roost in the old Agate Hall chimney for a week or so on their way south. Watch for the Audubon Society’s Friday night vigils Sept. 20 and 27 when that happens.

The equinox on Sept. 22 comes as the change in day length is at its greatest. After equinox the rate of change decelerates until the change is barely noticeable during the season of longest nights.

August 7, 2013

This must be nature’s designation of the Year of the Nut. Filbert trees all around town have an abundance of swelling husks. When growing close to the curb, nuts are being knocked off their branches by passing trucks and smashed on the street by subsequent traffic. Squirrels and crows leap out onto the street to snatch up the soft, as yet unripe, meat of the seed inside, what we call a nut. Walnuts are also showing a major crop, especially the Turkish walnuts, in abandoned orchards and back yards.

July 3, 2013

f you wanted to carve a dugout canoe from a log, is it better to chip out the inside first? Or should you first shape the outside and then scoop out the inside? The answer at the end may surprise you.

May 30, 2013

June is a big gardening month. Early winter greens have been used up and cleared away while the sugar snap peas should reach maximum production. The solstice, June 21 this year, marks when the bush beans should have been planted. I like both peas and beans because they are so easy to grow from seed. The critical issue is protecting the seedlings from sneaky herbivores like pill bugs and sow bugs. These nonnative pests hide in mulch or between rocks of the raised beds. They creep out at night to devour the tender plumule just as it starts to emerge from between the cotyledons.

May 2, 2013

This truly is Wildflower Month, as the majority of our valley native plants achieve their peak of bloom in May. The blue camas is at its peak early in May. People driving  south should keep an eye out for the ivory colored camas that is found along the freeway from Sutherlin to Riddle. Its ivory petal color is different from the pure white of albino forms of the related blue species.

April 4, 2013

April is the month we’ll be saying goodbye to most of the wintering waterfowl. I am going to miss the buffleheads. The resident early birds have already started nesting while many migrants are just arriving. They will be checking to see if the old nest is suitable for refurbishing for another season. If it is, they will soon start singing songs of domestic joy. The bushtit flocks don’t break up while nesting and feeding young. They do forage by themselves now, unaccompanied by their usual winter companions, juncoes and chickadees.

March 7, 2013

Watching ducks on the Delta Ponds keeps me entertained. Shovelers continue their circle dances this month, the males trying to pair bond before heading north in April for nesting season. You still have time to experience this courtship ritual unless you choose the rare sunny morning when they line up on a log to bask in the warm rays.

February 14, 2013

Why do mosses and lichens fall out of the trees in winter? Close to the end of every year, clumps of moss and lichen appear around almost every oak and maple tree in town. These are the branch species, different from terrestrial mosses and lichens. It is most prominent in parks where the lawn hasn’t been mowed since late fall. For years I attributed the lichen rain to wind storms, but that never struck me as the whole story. A comment in the Mount Pisgah Arboretum newsletter by its caretaker made a light go on in my head.

January 10, 2013

Migration is the word for this month. The ponds and reservoirs in the valley are teeming with winter residents. Nothing makes having nice binoculars pay off more than feasting the eyes on the intricate patterns of a male green winged teal, shovelhead or bufflehead. I never get over the flash of amazement at how quickly a bufflehead can spin over and disappear under the water on a dive. Similarly startling is a cormorant suddenly coming up like a submarine periscope breaking a glassy surface.

December 6, 2012

They’re baaack! The mosquito ferns have reappeared in the ponds on the east side of Delta Highway. They have been inconspicuous for three years, a normal population fluctuation. We recognize them by the dark, reddish-brown surface mat on the ponds. Duckweed stays green all winter but the mosquito ferns get color in the fall. That they are still reddish brown and not shocking purple tells us that by the beginning of December we still haven’t had a hard freeze.

December 6, 2012

Congress can go off the fiscal cliff if it wants to. I’m going bowling.

October 31, 2012

The American wigeons are back in the Delta Ponds. I believe these are the first of our winter migrants to arrive. I look forward to the increasing diversity of waterfowl. On our side of the Delta Highway we have had only mallards and Canada geese for a long time.

Turtles can be seen in the Delta Ponds on the west side of Delta Highway but it appears the cormorants have usurped them from their favorite logs. With increasing cold weather and less sun showing, the turtles will burrow into the mud at the bottom of the ponds to brumate.