For the past 36 years, I have kept records of weather and of the progress of the seasons in Yellow Springs, Ohio, a small town just south of the 40th Parallel in the Ohio Valley. Whenever I travel, I add notes about what is happening in the places I visit.The daybook has been an anchor in my personal life, becoming a kind of autobiography of my awareness of the natural world around me. I find the consistency – among the many variations – of my habitat through the years to be a guide for tracking possible effects of climate change. And since there are few resources for comparative phenology in print or on the web, I feel that my daily notes might be of use to those interested in following common events in the Ohio Valley seasons, and in contrasting those things with what is happening in their own neighborhoods.
The 144th Day of the Year
Many of the events of the annual cycle recur year after year in a regular order. A year-to-year record of this order is a record of the rates at which solar energy flows to and through living things. They are the arteries of the land. By tracing their responses to the sun, Phenology may eventually shed some light on that ultimate enigma, the land’s inner workings.
Aldo Leopold, A Phenological Record for Sauk and Dane Counties, Wisconsin, 1935-1945 (1947)
Day’s Length: 14 hours 38 minutes
Average High/Low: 75/54
Average Temperature: 64
Record High: 90 – 1975
Record Low: 36 – 1925
The sixth high-pressure system of the month is due today, and statistics show some of its strength. There is a 15 percent chance for an afternoon high only in the 50s, and another five percent for 60s. Although that leaves plenty of room for warmth (80 percent chance for 70s or 80s), the risk of light frost does enter the realm of possibility for the next 72 hours. Rain on May 24th is usually light, with only a third of the days bringing precipitation, and skies are mostly clear three days out of four.
After peonies come in and the flowers of the yellow poplar open, past the decline of poppies, the last leaves of the canopy cover Yellow Springs. When the high foliage is complete, then wild multiflora roses and domestic tea roses bloom, clustered snakeroot hangs with pollen in the shade, and parsnips, goat’s beard and sweet clovers take over the fields. Swamp valerian blossoms along the creeks, timothy pushes up from its sheaths at South Glen, and orange daylilies come in down Grinnell Road.
Middle summer’s wood nettle is past knee high. Wild lettuce, wingstem, and dogbane have grown up hip high. Grasses along the riverbank are waist high and seeding. Poison hemlock reaches chin high, angelica over your head. The dusky violet smoke bush is in full bloom. Elderberry bushes and catalpa trees flower along the highways. Cow vetch, wild parsnips, poison hemlock, angelica, motherwort, blackberries, yarrow and the rough Canadian thistles bloom below the Vale. Black raspberries set their fruit. Ragweed and Jerusalem artichoke stalks are more than two feet tall, the corn has sprouted, and farmers are taking the first cut of alfalfa.
Daisies, golden Alexander, cressleaf groundsel, sweet rocket and common fleabane still hold in the pastures, but the violet heads of chives and allium decay. Wild onions and domestic garlic get their seed bulbs. Petals of mock orange, honeysuckle, lupine and Dutch iris fall to the garden floor. Osage and black walnut flowers come down in the rain. Under the closing canopy, late spring’s garlic mustard, columbine, geraniums, ragwort, chickweed and catchweed die back, their yellow foliage dividing May from June.
Flea beetles attack beet greens in the garden. Damselflies and dragonflies hunt the ponds. Leafhoppers, corn borers and armyworms assault the crops. Flies bother the cattle, ticks roam the brambles, tree frogs chant in the night, cricket song grows louder, and the earliest fireflies flicker in the lawn. Young squirrels, half grown, explore the maples, and almost every gosling and wood duck has hatched.
1982: First wild roses seen, and yarrow open by the railroad tracks.
1984: South Glen: First bloom on the parsnips, waterleaf still full, wood nettle reaching up to replace it, sweet Cicely and garlic mustard still dominant, violets gone, yarrow budding, canopy still not complete.
1985: First motherwort blooms.
1986: Connie reports cottonwood cotton at Crystal Lake.
1987: Mayflies everywhere along the river, and gold-collared black flies mating. Angelica over my head, budding, first Japanese honeysuckle flowering, English ryegrass discovered in early bloom. Garlic mustard droops, closes the path with its seed heads. Chickweed and bedstraw are pale and dying back. Sweet Cicely gone to seed. First wild roses. No chiggers yet.
1990: At the Covered Bridge, sweet rockets are still full bloom, tall buttercups cover the swamp, angelica and parsnips coming in, wild garlic heading, first damselfly seen, poison ivy budding, sweet Cicely gone, white violets holding, yellow poplar flowers falling to the path, red admirals still common, late honeysuckle, very late garlic mustard.
1991: Flock of cedar waxwings in the reddening mulberries today. Last of the Siberian iris and mock orange in the yard.
1992: Hemlock full bloom along Dayton street. Siberian iris early full today, mock orange full.
1993: The first Siberian iris was beginning to flower before I went to work; after a day of wind and light rain, four were completely open. The first strawberry reddened today. A small cluster of locust flowers fell to the lawn, its scent piercing and beautiful. When I was out walking later, the night wind was full of locust bloom.
1995: First ripe strawberry eaten today. All the azalea flowers have fallen in the rain. Peonies and locusts blooming in Xenia.
1997: Azalea flowers half fallen. Wild cherry trees seen in full bloom along the freeway. First yellow sweet clover. Early locusts seen. First June bug came to the screen door after dark. At 5:00 a.m. birdsong is still strong, and continues past dawn. Honeysuckles are in full bloom in the yard and everywhere. The two violet iris in the yard are closing just as the first two mock orange flowers open. Canopy still far from complete, Osage holding back, locusts. Many other species with only half-size leaves.
1998: Robins, cardinals, doves, crows loud at 5:00 a.m. No letup in birdsong this morning! If there is a decline of calls in late May, it wasn’t evident today. Purple water iris blooms late this morning. In the pond, the tadpoles have changed their habits over the past week or so. First they began to feed together in three or four large groups. Instead of their haphazard independence, each going in its own direction, they seemed to have developed a sense of solidarity. And now over the past two days they have become secretive, suddenly moving to the edges of the pond and hiding and feeding in the algae there.
1999: First miniature turban lily opened today as blue flags decline.
2000: The turban lily didn’t open today, in spite of 80-degree heat. That measures this year a little later than last.
2001: First cardinal at 4:27 a.m., faint bird chorus then. Doves joining by 4:47. Japanese honeysuckles opening up now. High locusts and the last of the high canopy filling in. The air is fragrant with roses, honeysuckles, mock orange, privet, peonies. Early peak of Japanese iris in the pond, and the other plants are spreading quickly. No turban lily this year, the plant probably swallowed up by weeds.
2002: Black walnut, angelica, and parsnips early full bloom. First blackberry and sweet William flower seen. Thrush heard.
2003: At South Glen: blackberries and first orange daylilies are in bloom, wild cherry finished. Grasses – brome and orchard grass – up to my waist.
2004: First yellow primrose (oenothera), first short, orange Asiatic lily bloomed today. Pollen heads on the native fern. Rockets fading rapidly. Allium, pale violet clematis and garlic mustard done. Seeds have formed on the redbud. Scabiosa full bloom. Blue flag iris disappeared as quickly as they came, less than week of bloom.
2006: Multiflora roses suddenly open in the alley as the snowball viburnum rusts. Momentum gathering in the blue flags. Sweet rockets and iris full. Snow on the mountain budding. Greg reported that a mother skunk was transferring her babies one by one from his yard to underneath the neighbor’s shed. Jeni, visiting from Portland, says her azaleas have just ended, and the rhododendrons have just started blooming. This is rose festival time in Portland, too, she says.
2007: First privet flowers seen on our walk this morning. The white clematis continues full bloom along the east fence. One of the new poppies opened over the night, and more are budded. More lilies are budding: the season should start in a day or two. Cedar waxwing heard in the back yard this afternoon.
2008: A sense of the quieting of birdsong these mornings after dawn. Two long-jawed orbweaver spiders have woven webs across the pond overnight. Fourteen Dutch iris now in bloom. Seeds well formed on the back standard redbud. Stella d’oros seen in bloom in Xenia on the 22nd. Some of the ones I transplanted last year have small buds now. The first two peonies opened in the yard today, and I saw a few in bloom along Elm Street near the school. Three purple clematis flowers in the forsythia hedge, another three in the garden trellis. Daisy fleabane budded. The red azalea flowers are wilting all of a sudden as the weather warms. Gary at Stutzman’s nursery mentioned that this was the best year he could remember for hawthorn blossoms. In the alley, Don’s multiflora rose came into bloom today or yesterday. Throughout the back yards of the alleyways, hostas provide foliage color, sweet rockets most of the accents. Heavy scent of locust blossoms all along my walk. Caladiums planted in pots this afternoon. Soft, rhythmic call of wood frogs after dark.
2009: First black damselflies, full hemlock and yellow sweet clover, loud grackles at 8:00 p.m. One gosling seen with parents by the university. Heavy honeysuckle flower fall. Lush ranunculus, first pentstemon.
2010: Mulberries reddening in front of Gerard’s on Dayton Street. The pond toad sings all day. Rick Donahoe wrote this morning: “Hey Bill, We’ve got a real problem, and although you’re not directly responsible, I do think you should share some of the guilt for speaking this one into existence: fecal sacks. What started out last year as an occasional fecal sack in our birdbath (which can no longer be called such) has mushroomed into an onslaught, with there often being more than fifty popcorn-sized sacks by day’s end. Moreover, these grackles have lined the rocks around our pond with white sacks, and sometimes don’t even bother to land, bombarding the pond on their way over. One result, we surmise, is that our pond is getting too much nitrogen, why water from the waterfalls is frothing white. Something we haven’t seen before. Any suggestions? Please Dr. Felker, we need help.”
2011:The landscape, always in transition, keeps balance and stability within its layers, and the coincidence of plants at different stages of growth and decay throughout the village and the Glen creates a message of unity and coherence. Here at the edge of June, as the canopy closes quickly overhead, the woodland floor reveals its parallel seasons, simultaneous birth and death, reminiscence and prophesy.
You can see them all together in an hour’s walk: entangled with the blossoms of the present (the pink sweet rockets, the yellow swamp buttercups, the pale blue waterleaf, the violet wild geraniums, white Solomon’s plume, deep purple spiderwort and larkspur, the golden-pollen clustered snakeroot) find skunk cabbage from February, sprawling chickweed from March, aging trilliums from April, seeding ragwort from early May, black raspberries and blackberries blooming for June, wood nettle knee high for July, lanky goldenrod stalks for August, spears of wingstem and ironweed for September, asters leaves for October.
In village gardens, the floral year is equally apparent: this week’s peonies and mock orange, early roses, Kousa dogwoods, Japanese honeysuckles, weigelas, and pink spirea bloom beside the floppy snowdrop foliage of February, the toppled bluebells of March, the April forsythia and crab apples now fully leafed, the last six-petaled star of Bethlehem of May, the long drifts of lilies waiting for June, the coneflower clusters for July, the stonecrop stems for August, the artichoke shoots for September.
Not only is each season formed in sequence and context; each contains maps of mutual genesis and destiny, supple connections and byways that bundle the days together, softening their transience with communal meaning, and promising their return.
2012: The first yellow primrose (oenothera) opened in the north garden overnight. The first oak leaf hydrangea flowers came out this morning, and the first Queen Anne’s lace is unraveling near the fence. Along the freeway, chicory is no longer a rarity – now the asphalt lined with blue as well with yellow from the sweet clover. More mulberries falling to the sidewalk near Lawson Place, so early this year. Privet, peonies, Japanese honeysuckle aging, Siberian iris gone.
2013: Way back behind the waterleaf, under the drooping honeysuckle, one orange daylily came into bloom today. Now the oakleaf, the hobblebush and the Annabelle hydrangeas are all budded. Japanese honeysuckle has buds, roses just starting. Peonies, sweet William, weigela, Japanese wisteria, common honeysuckle, mock orange, perennial salvia, late allium, yellow iris, and sweet rockets all full bloom in the north and south gardens. White berries have developed on the raspberry bushes. In front of Liz’s house, pink coral bells are all out beside the poppies. At the corner of Limestone and Stafford, a clump of daisies in flower. Throughout the day, the red-bellied woodpecker called and called. And for the second evening in a row, a downy woodpecker attacked the south wall siding, the rapping echoing through the greenhouse.
2014: Inventory on return from Santee-Cooper: One stella d’oro barely opening, a handful of peonies, white and pink, half open, privets along Dayton Street budded and straining, honeysuckle flowers mostly darkened from pollination, iris and Dutch iris still full bloom throughout the village, poppies fading, hyacinths collapsing quickly, Asiatic/Oriental lilies budded, cut-back roses recovered to two feet, perennial salvia bushy and full, sweet rockets, catmint and spiderwort providing violet markers for the north garden, the snowball hydrangea losing its petals rapidly, pacing the wood hyacinths, weigelas and rhododendrons completely out, bittersweet flowering in the alley.
2015: Half an hour before dawn: full bird chorus, of course, peonies, poppies, blue flag iris, and multiflora roses most prominent as I jogged through the neighborhood.
2017: Cottonwood cotton in the wind. A few stella d’oro lilies open at Peggy’s. Male cardinal feeding a female fledgling on the platform feeder this morning, and a robin competing with a grackle for something on the ground near the back porch. I transplanted the tall sedum (Autumn Joy) this morning, digging it up from behind a fat clump of spiderwort and moved it to the porch area, a west-facing strip of ground along side the brick patio. It was one of my few innovations since Jeanie died, and I liked the way it looked. I liked the fact that the space could be an autumn garden now – in place of the many failed plantings of bulbs there. As I set in the plants, I felt that Jeanie would approve, and I liked that.
I see a fearless generosity in the flowers and trees, in the way birds sing out at dawn, in the steady drumming of the rain. As I grew older and found I had things to protect, I forgot. I completely forgot that I had always had enough in the first place. Now I am trying to learn this once again—total abundance, nothing begrudged.