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 also 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 145th Day of the Year
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
Day’s Length: 14 hours 40 minutes
Average High/Low: 75/54
Average Temperature: 64
Record High: 95 – 1911
Record Low: 33 – 1925
Even though 60 percent of May 25ths are in the 70s or 80s, a full 40 percent are not, making it the day with the most potential for chilly conditions since the 15th. A five percent chance for a high only in the 40s appears in my weather history for the first time since May 9th. Fifties occur ten percent of the time, and 60s another 25 percent. Light frost is a distinct possibility this morning and tomorrow morning, and along with the increased likelihood for cold, the chances for rain rise from yesterday’s 35 percent all the way to 50 percent. Clouds dominate half the time, making today one of the two cloudiest days of the month (the 12th is the other). In 1895, the Yellow Springs paper reported that quail’s-egg-size hail fell for 15 minutes on this date, and left two inches of ice on the ground.
By this time of year, slugs are usually roaming the garden. Bean leaf beetles are common in the fields. Alfalfa weevil and leaf hopper infestations become more troublesome. White-marked tussock moths attack the elms; May beetles find the oaks; scurfy scale comes to the lindens. Tadpoles move to land. Cricket song grows louder. Mosquitoes become more pesky. Dragonflies appear along the rivers and lakes. The earliest fireflies come out to mate.
In the cooler years, the last of late spring’s seasons come to a close. Wood hyacinths and spring beauties disappear. Violets stop blooming until autumn. Dogwood petals are taken down by the rain and wind. The last of the lilacs turn brown. Early snowball hydrangeas lose their luster. Sweet Cicely goes to seed. Garlic mustard and winter cress weaken under the closing canopy. Spring phlox are getting old. Ragwort flowers turn to fluffy seed heads. Watercress falls over in the sun. The last tulips and latest daffodils are gone.
1982: First ripe strawberries picked. Today marked the end of hydrangea season in the yard, the beginning of yellow sweet clover season along the roadsides. Wild mallow opening now in the north garden.
1983: At Clifton Gorge: columbine, winter cress, ragwort, garlic mustard, black snakeroot, sweet rockets, fleabane, violets, sweet Cicely, pepper grass, and robin’s fleabane found. Wild rose ready to flower. Except for a few of the tallest trees, the canopy is complete. The touch-me-nots are rising above the waterleaf, mosquitoes follow me back to the truck.
1984: Last lilacs disappear. First mock orange blooms.
1986: The first honewort discovered beyond the Covered Bridge, first flower of the completed canopy, sure sign of summer. Lizard’s tail was all leafed out, one to two feet tall. Boneset two feet. Garlic mustard almost all gone, tall and leaning now, the most obvious deterioration of spring growth. Clearweed nettle was up two inches, had sprouted maybe a week before. Tall meadow rue was ready. Sweet Cicely and catchweed gone to seed. Sweet rockets getting late. First gold-collared blackfly seen. Wild lettuce up to my waist. Rare anemone Canadensis blossoming, golden Alexander full, and henbit. Purple vetch in bloom. Spitbugs seen and the first mayfly. Canopy complete. Suckers in the shallows near shore. First motherwort opening at home.
1987: Japanese honeysuckle flowers.
1989: East to New Jersey for my nephew’s wedding: Leaving Yellow Springs in the rain, the maple canopy full, sycamores light, osage barely leafing, first peonies opening. Along the freeway, daisies and rockets in full bloom all the way to the coast. Tree line stable into the mountains, then thinning in the higher Appalachians, to a week or two weeks earlier than in Yellow Springs. Across one meadow, dandelions were still in full bloom. In eastern Pennsylvania, sweet clover, rhododendrons, and purple vetch were open, canopy complete. On the other side of the mountains, the New Jersey countryside had yellow poplars and locusts in flower, parsnips and hemlock blooming, a few huge thistles opening.
1990: First ripe strawberry picked today. Full decline of the snowball viburnum.
1991: Catalpas full bloom, and osage flowers fall, mulberries have turned red.
1992: Violet swamp iris in bloom across from the Covered Bridge.
1993: Dogwoods are gone; I missed their last days. Peak time of poppies, iris, daisies, buttercups, fleabane, snow-on-the-mountain. Astilbe spikes shoot up. The locusts increase in intensity, shading the new green canopy with their cream white flowers. First daylily opened along Grinnell this afternoon. Clematis full bloom.
1995: Spiderwort full bloom now in the south garden, with the daisies and sweet rockets and poppies and ranunculus.
1997: First dark blue spiderwort opens in the south garden. The red-violet spiderworts have produced one or two flowers this past week.
1998: A flock of cedar waxwings in the back locusts this afternoon. Now the roses are at the peak of their first bloom, reds and yellows and pinks.
1999: The first water lily is blooming today, 32 flat, round leaves encircling it.
2000: Half-red mulberries seen on the street.
2001: South Glen: Gold-collared blackflies and red admiral butterflies common, sweet rockets fading, angelica and white campion full bloom, some very late honeysuckle, first green-bodied black-winged damselflies of the year, orchard grass too tough to pull or chew, brome emerging, canopy above complete. At home, lamb’s ear has been full now for a week, pacing the pollen spikes on the wild pond iris. Bridal wreath is done at Susi’s. Glowing pink spirea started yesterday at Washington Court House.
2003: A flock of cedar waxwings in the white mulberry at noon today.
2004: The first encounter with local periodical cicadas (the magicicada septendecim) was announced a few days ago to the Almanack by John Sturm: “This morning, May 18, 2004,” he wrote, “I spotted one of the Brood X cicadas in Glen Helen. It was on the low trail back from the pine forest that runs along the Yellow Springs Creek. There is no doubt it my mind it was of the 17-year variety. I saved one from the 1987 emergence in a small plastic box.”
By the next day, nursery school students at the Antioch School were finding the newly emerged insects in their play area. During the afternoon of the 20th, Eric Clark called the News from the Springs Motel to report his first sighting. Toward noon on the 21st, drivers of the Antioch School kindergarten field trip to the Cincinnati zoo had cicadas bouncing off their windshields.
I wasn’t able to get to the woods until the 23rd, late Sunday afternoon. After all the reports, I felt that I would have a good chance of seeing the cicadas where I had discovered them more than a decade and a half ago.
Entering South Glen from Grinnell Road at about five o’clock, I made my way along the path above the river. Ash seeds and clusters of spent osage flowers covered the ground. A few gnats and mosquitoes touched my neck and face. A broad-winged damselfly looked down at me from a box elder tree. An Alypia moth with white stripes on its wings fluttered back and forth in the undergrowth. New gold-collared blackflies explored the foliage and flowers of sweet rockets, multiflora roses and waterleaf. But there were no cicadas. I wondered if I were too early, or maybe even too late to find Brood X.
Then a hundred feet or so from the road, I saw one of the telltale brown hulls of the nymphs from which the adult cicadas emerge. I walked a little farther, found half a dozen nymph shells hanging to the underside of hickory and honeysuckle leaves, then more on buckeye, elm, garlic mustard and sweet Cicely.
I started searching under the low, two-foot canopy of touch-me-nots and wood nettles. A fat toad hopped ahead of me down the path. Daddy longlegs crouched on the black snakeroot. Scorpion flies hunted for prey.
Then I found the elusive magicicadas themselves. They were resting quietly all around, waiting for me. They were an inch or two in length. Their wings were shiny and gold, their eyes red, their bodies black.
I approached them slowly, carefully stepping off the trail and entering the inner sanctum of their habitat. I reached down and touched one on the back, then stroked its soft wings. The creature remained still, seemed completely unafraid, and accepted my caress as though it had been expecting my curiosity.
I went deeper into the green waist-high world of touch-me-nots and nettle, and the cicadas allowed me to observe and handle them there, confident, perhaps, in their great numbers (my sources suggested there could be up to a million of them in the small forest glade I was exploring).
With only slight encouragement, one climbed up on my index finger and looked at me benignly while I studied its angelic wings, and wondered at its docility and its trust. In a week, I whispered to my guest, all of this soundless, contemplative, prepubescent innocence would be gone. He (if he were a he) would be mad with lust, loud and frantic, charging into trees and automobiles or plunging into the river. And she (if she were a she) would be watching, listening, waiting, loving the grand display.
2005: Northern Spring Field Cricket heard in the yard today.
2007: Two cedar waxwings seen in the white mulberry at about 8:45 this morning. Mock orange flowers are almost completely down. Purple columbines still strong throughout the alley gardens, some poppies and iris, some pink bush roses, some red. Blue flags and sweet Williams holding. New blue-purple midnight salvia planted on the west corner of the north garden. Very first achillea opening. Kousa dogwoods in full bloom throughout the village. Caladiums planted in pots this afternoon.
2008: First achillea opens. Most of the hydrangeas are budding. No cedar waxwings yet – the mulberries aren’t ripe yet. A black swallowtail, golden markings came to the allium at 1:30, two yellow swallowtails with black markings later in the day. One call of the red-bellied woodpecker heard about noon. Wild grapes in full bloom. Several Jerusalem artichokes transplanted to the south window garden. Jeanie saw the first young grackle begging for food from its parents under the bird feeder.
2010: Highs in the 80s once again, early summer here. The landscape is full of clovers and roses. The heavy scent of Japanese honeysuckles fill the dooryard garden. Mulberries are fat and sweetening. Orchard grass is in full bloom. Redbud seeds are full size. Privet is coming in. Mock orange petals almost done, and peonies have entered their decline. A few strawberries reddening in the garden.
2011: Yucca in full bloom along the steps to the musei capitolini near the piazza de Venecia in Rome.
2012: Now the season is just a little ahead of 2010, maybe a week but not too much more. Catchweed is seeding now throughout the garden. In the alley, pokeweed seven feet tall and budding, low mallow with pink flowers. Hobblebush and Annabelle hydrangeas have opened parallel to the oak leaf hydrangeas, and the Endless Summers are budding. The first zinnia seeded in April is opening. Sweet rockets are fading very quickly, catchweed burs sticking to me when I do the weeding. Sage flowers holding. Clustered bellflower opened yesterday. Grackles no longer come to the feeders since we have changed the feed to sunflower and safflower seeds. One fledgling seen in the south yard, though after lunch. A green-bodied damselfly came to the pond while I was adjusting the stonework this afternoon. Yucca, at least four-feet tall, is straining to open.
2013: In Fairborn this afternoon, I saw red clover, black medic clover and full-blooming hemlock – all of them probably having come into bloom while I was gone to Wisconsin last weekend. Still no privet flowers. Moya has full snow-on-the-mountain blossoms, a fine blue lupine (I haven’t seen lupines since our patch died out in the late 1990s.), and a mock orange bush covered with flowers. By the shed, clustered snakeroot is starting to produce pollen.
2014: At the Cascades, only sweet rockets, tall ragwort, one common fleabane, a fading Solomon’s plume, and a clump of daisies. All the other markers of spring were gone. At home, I discovered the dying mock orange bush had come into full flower, maybe for the last time, behind the honeysuckles, and the Japanese wisteria was opening on the trellis. On the south hedge, bittersweet nightshade was hanging open from the forsythia.
2015: Robins a little after 4:00 a.m., cardinals at 4:30, doves about 4:45, and then song sparrows and crows by 5:00. A hummingbird finally showed up at the new feeder, a brown female. Maybe she has been around for weeks and I just didn’t notice. Downtown, the columbines and blue flag iris are in full flower, the yellowwood tree is done blooming, and the first lamb’s ear is coming in. As I loped through the village to Ellis Pond, I was surrounded by the fragrant and heavy cloak of honeysuckle and sweet rockets, and I found cottonwood cotton all about down Stafford Street.
2016: Jill reported cottonwood cotton in her yard from the neighbor’s tree. In my north garden, I found a number of ditch lily stalks with buds.
2017: Storms bring down privet flowers to the High Street sidewalk.
Journal: Grackle Pentecost
The ancient Christian feast of Pentecost was celebrated a month or so ago, a commemoration of the fabled descent of the Holy Ghost upon the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Inspired by the Spirit, those frightened men and women suddenly left their hiding place and surged down into the street, speaking in tongues of the wonders they had experienced.
I got up early Pentecost morning, made a cup of black tea, and went out into the back yard to watch the dawn. By 4:00, the robin chorus was faint but steady in the distance. The volume grew until cardinals began to sing at 4:37, and then the doves came in at 4:40, and then the blue jays at 5:48, and the red-bellied woodpecker at 4:56, crows at 4:59.
By the time the grackles woke up at 5:00, the bird chorus was loud and raucous. Then a sudden breeze passed through the trees, and, to my surprise, the grackles, adults and fledglings, became more boisterous, their calls drowning out the other songsters as the sun came up.
Earlier in the month, the birds had become quieter after sunrise, but that Pentecost morning, it seemed to me, the grackle babies had all hatched at once, and the entire community of grackles was aroused and excited.
The wave of their language grew and grew as though every grackle that lived in our woods had been filled with a great message, and that each one knew it was time to speak.
I sat there wondering, as I sipped my tea and listened to this grand gathering of creatures, if maybe the human saints were gone, the apostles and their fervor long decayed, and, in their place, these joyous birds had now received the overwhelming wind of Revelation, and were clucking and cackling, in universal, earthy tongues, the good news of summer and rebirth.
Like a sound, spring spreads and spreads until it is swallowed up in space. Like the wind, it moves across the map invisible; we see it only in its effects. It appears like the tracks of the breeze on a field of wheat, like shadows of wind-blown clouds, like tossing branches that reveal the presence of the invisible, the passing of the unseen.
Edwin Way Teale