Friday, November 23, 2012

Everything in its season...

When I strap on my helmet and set off on a cool crisp morning, I feel like a little kid on a day with no school.   It is especially so after the first real rain of the season.  Rain starts the cycle of life over again in this dusty land.  I never tire at seeing the regular progression of seasonal events - there is such a predictable but always surprising sequence of wonders unfolding!  We have a paradox here in Northern California – for many deciduous plants this is the season for retracting plant sap into the roots and shedding the drained empty leaves.  These plants are attuned to preparing for the cold days of winter which will follow.   Many (but not all)  of the deciduous plants in our area are introduced and not part of the native vegetation.

Persimmon leaves
Many other plants, especially native plants, react to autumn conditions by coming out of hibernation.  In addition, rain is the cue for dormant seeds to spring back to life. Already long dormant grass seeds have sprouted and are showing rapid growth.  Our hills are once more becoming green. These plants are perfectly adapted to winter rains and cold, even occasional frozen mornings.  The cycle of events is so predictable - and natural selection has fitted the organisms so closely to the pattern of conditions that the normal seasonal changes in weather result in the changes in plants and animals.

White pelicans, cormorants, white egrets, and a few ducks resting on a lake bank
         Migratory flocks of white pelicans are gathering in the lake, Great white egrets are standing silent guard beside the river, white crowned sparrows are singing their plaintive sweet songs, great mobs of irascible crows gather and argue in their tree tops.  Tiny humming birds rest on the top most branch of a tree and hover by the late fall flowers in search of nectar.   When I walk in the hills I encounter noisy gangs of wild turkeys gorging on acorns under the oak trees.  They invariably have one sentinel “watch turkey” while the others feed.  Troops of Canada Geese  have no natural predators and have increased to large numbers eating lawns and crops.

Ginko tree
My bicycle tires crunch their way through patches of dry leaves, mud puddles are already forming a rim of green algae, and the air is so crisp that distant hills stand out in full detail.  Even snails who had adapted to the long dry summers by slithering high onto weeds or shrubs and fastening their shells to the stem with dried slime, are becoming active once more.  Rain frees them from their summer of forced rest and they feed hungrily on the new green growth.

Summer cirrus clouds (high altitude) 
         Gone are the thin wispy cirrus clouds of summer – they are replaced with the grand massive winter cumulous clouds and at times solid overcast stratus clouds.  There are sometimes dense masses of cirrus clouds (made of ice crystals) and when the sun strikes them at just the ‘right’ angle, rainbow hued sundogs can be seen, one to the right of the sun, another to the left. More on sundogs:

Cumulus clouds

 The insects of summer also must adjust.  The colder weather causes organisms with ‘cold blooded’ systems (exotherms) to move more slowly. Some remain in a stupor during the winter months and revive with the heat of spring.  Some burrow into the ground, others lay eggs in safe places before they die. 

Grasshopper laying eggs in the ground in the late fall
          Gone are the dragonflies and grasshoppers.... even house flies are hard to find. If the temperature drops below about 55F, evening cricket chirps will stop.     Gone are the harbingers of winter nights those night singing crickets. To read more about  crickets and temperature:  Now when the evening sun sets our new nighttime singers are male Pacific Tree frogs hoping to attract a mate with their skillful singing?  
Quince fruit

         I love this season in my garden – the soil is easy to work.  Many of the plants adapted to this climate send our side shoots and it is so easy to divide and start more of favorite plants.  It is also a time of judgment - if I have a plant that does not do well under the harsh summer conditions I cull it out.  Sadly it’s also the season when all those resting weed seeds spring to life too!
Clum of day lilies ready for division

         And finally I love the fruit of the season!  We have a Fuju persimmon tree that has been more than generous this year – also a good crop of Granny Smith apples- a winter apple – are just coming into full swing.  Our faithful Orange and Lemon trees gives us fruit all year long and the Mandarin Oranges as well.  I grow a few other fall and winter fruits – Chinese dates, Pineapple Guavas,  Chilean Guavas,  Kiwi fruit, and I am still waiting for my new fig to mature.  I try to leave fruit on the tree to pick as we can use it ... 

Stratus clouds - indicate a layer of clouds spanning the sky
These are stratus clouds made of cumulus clouds -

November here is the month when it is getting cold but not enough to keep me from working outdoors.   Mornings are cool and a fire feels good at the end of the day.  We have an old rule that says that the first frost of tyhe season usually comes within a week of Thanksgiving.  The question is = Will that rule hold true in this time of climate change?

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Cluster of Hayashi persimmons