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About Time

September 7, 2017

The solar eclipse in August was a rare and spectacular event, predicted with the same accuracy as the timing of the equinox this month (1:02 pm, Sept. 22). A hurricane like Harvey is a rare and spectacular event but predicting hurricanes is much more complicated than calculating the timing of celestial events. It is remarkable that people who accept the prediction of celestial events even when they cannot fathom the math behind them are willing to challenge scientists who predict climate change.

August 3, 2017

August is a month of tension between the urge to backpack into the high Cascades and the density of mosquitoes near the best campsites around lakes or wet meadows. In most years, the fierceness of mosquito attacks tends to diminish toward the end of August. Mosquitoes proliferate rapidly in snowmelt ponds. The sooner the snow disappears, the sooner mosquito-breeding season diminishes. Our dramatic recovery from recent years of drought and low snow pack was predicted to stimulate a massive resurgence of mosquitoes this summer.

July 6, 2017

For the first time in several years our reservoirs are full. This is good news all around because it means that there has been a good rain year with higher than average snowpack in the mountains. Euphemistically called “lakes” by the Army Corps of Engineers, I always add “reservoir” to the names, as in “Dexter Lake Reservoir.”  Reservoirs are not the same water bodies as natural lakes and have distinctive ecological relationships worth remembering. Reservoirs built for flood control in the Willamette River watershed are subject to dramatic changes in water level every year.

June 1, 2017

The frenetic flowering rush of spring is tapering off as nature settles into the languorous days surrounding the summer solstice. The sun rises early, before most people wake up, and sunset punctuates a late evening. For two months, the change in day length varies by barely an hour.

May 4, 2017

Stargazing has been tough for the past few months. Precipitation is the culprit, with a new record set for the number of rainy days this year. I have recently been missing Orion from the evening sky and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. Now I’m looking forward to the Big Triangle.

Our garden soil is still pretty soggy. We hope to get some more typical June weather in time to put out the vegetable starts.

April 13, 2017

With the vernal equinox just passed, lengthening days coupled with warmer temperatures means the rapid appearance of first blooms on the wildflowers of the Willamette Valley. When the blooming time is delayed by extreme cold weather, like this spring, the subsequent appearance is all the more dramatic. One week of warm weather will likely bring all species back on line with close to normal flowering time. April and May produce the peak of floral diversity in our region.

March 16, 2017

For the past six months or so, some animal has been digging holes next to the path along the ponds on the east side of Delta Highway. Tracks left in mud on the path after a winter rain finally gave us a clue: nutria. Their distinctive tracks include a tail streak between footprints. Nutria are well known to dig up roots, worms and bugs. They seem to have been eating lots of roots of poison hemlock since its leaves have appeared. Considering how deadly it is to humans, I wondered how nutria could survive.

February 2, 2017

February is a very interesting month for the Willamette Valley. Although it’s midwinter in the northern hemisphere, we have spring activity gearing up, with expectations of first native wildflowers blooming.

January 5, 2017

The natural world has its regular rhythms disrupted by natural disasters like ice storms, much the way human environments change.

Incense cedar trees have proven much more susceptible to damage from an ice load than Douglas fir. The recent ice storm brought down incense cedar branches in much greater numbers than Douglas fir. The incense cedar’s ecological adaptation to the warmer end of the forest zone allowed them to evolve into a species with weak branches. They are not resistant to snow or ice. Key elements to surviving a disaster seem to be adaptability and resilience.

December 1, 2016

Gray whales are headed south this month and most of next month, led by females keen on giving birth in warm lagoons along the coast of Baja California, Mexico. Whale watching is not as good as during northward migration in spring, when whales move more slowly and closer to shore. But more whales per hour pass Oregon points in winter than in spring. Seeing whales is almost guaranteed. Looking from a high vantage point helps. The West Shelter close to the observation lookout at the top of the St. Perpetua Trail in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is an excellent spot.

November 3, 2016

When the rainy season begins as usual in the Willamette Valley, at the beginning of October, all is well with the world. This year the rains came in a series of unusually powerful storms, delivering almost twice its average monthly rainfall in the first two weeks. The wind accompanying the storms took down many trees, especially near the coast. 

October 6, 2016

The equinox passing is reflected in shorter days. The rate of change itself changes. Change in day length is fastest at equinox and slowest at solstice. The day-to-day change at equinox is about 3 minutes a day but only 30 seconds a day at winter solstice.

At the end of September, seeds of incense cedar were scattered to the winds and now their cones are raining down. The cones of incense cedar decompose over winter and are gone by spring. 

September 1, 2016

September is the month that hikers in western Oregon look forward to more than any month. Rainless days are almost guaranteed, mosquito levels drop off quickly and tourists thin out after Labor Day. This year there are a few qualifications to what is typically our best month for backpacking. Mosquito levels may be slow to disappear in the high country because there haven’t been enough freezing nights.

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.”