May 31: Daybook for the Year in Yellow Springs

May 31st
The 151st Day of the Year

One has only to sit down in the woods or fields or by the shore of the river or lake, and nearly everything of interest will come round. The change of the seasons is like the passage of strange and new countries; the zones of the earth, with all their beauties and marvels, pass one’s door.

John Burroughs

Sunrise/set: 5:09/7:57
Day’s Length: 14 hours 48 minutes
Average High/Low: 77/56
Average Temperature: 66
Record High: 97 – 1895
Record Low: 36 – 1897

Chances for rain are near 40 percent today, but the sun shines seven days out of ten, and the temperature distribution covers the range between mild to hot. Highs in the 90s come ten percent of the time, 80s forty percent, 70s and 60s twenty-five percent each.

Natural Calendar
Spring pasture now reaches its brightest green of the year, and haying moves towards the Canadian border at the rate of about one hundred miles a week, will be taking place almost everywhere in the United States by the middle of June. Spring wheat is just about all planted in the North, and all the oats are in the ground between Denver and New York. Potatoes and commercial tomatoes and pickles have all been set out along the Great Lakes.

Winter wheat is becoming a lighter green in southwestern Ohio, turning a pale gold below the Mason-Dixon Line. Blueberries are setting fruit in the Northeast. In Southern gardens, squash bugs and Japanese beetles are out in force.
Iris and peonies are blooming at elevations near 4000 feet in southern Idaho (as they are throughout the Lower Midwest).

Aspen leaves are the size of a thumbnail, and the raspberry plants are just getting their leaves in Yellowstone. Blackberries are in full bloom in the Northwest, as well as in the East, and dogwood trees are open around Sequoia National Park in California at the same time that the canola and winter wheat crops are about ready to be harvested in the Midwest. In the Southwest, blackberries have set fruit, and wildflowers such as chicory, salsify, moth mullein, great mullein, and milkweed are open  – marking the full bloom of the sunflower crop in southern California. North of Sacramento, the wheat is darkening – just like it is in the Ohio Valley and across the Middle Atlantic states.

1983: First multiflora roses on the bush under the apple tree. Some peonies past their prime. To Ellis Pond: Saw white campion, the first wild parsnips in bloom, milkweed three feet high, arrowhead beginning to emerge from the water, old but strong water and winter cress, full bloom of the sweet rockets, tall locust trees flowering, some Canadian thistles budding, blackbirds singing and swooping, swallows sailing up and down the stream bed looking for food.

1986: White yarrow along the freeway, some nodding thistles full bloom, a few catalpa flowers seen. First cherry in the yard half red.

1987: First nodding thistle blooms, moth mullein with several  flowers open, yuccas sending up their stalks. Elderberries are completely open, locusts almost gone. Very last bleeding heart disappears today. South Glen, late evening: Carp swimming lazily in the river do not take my bait, even in the quiet pools. Fireflies more numerous: four days ago, only an occasional blinking across the yard. Now, maybe ten or fifteen different lights counted in the space of a minute.

1990: The wheat has turned pale green now, the heads, emerged, are paler than the stalks and leaves. First daylily seen along Grinnell today. At the freeway, yellow sweet clover and hemlock are in full bloom. Now the field grasses wave like the wheat, tall and also turning, but darker. No fireflies tonight. One or two bleeding hearts left

1991: First chicory, first tiger lily, first cherries turning. First broccoli bolts in the heat wave. Locusts completely gone.

1993: Iris beginning to decline now, honeysuckle petals falling heavily to the sidewalk with the locust petals. Cherries half size. Peonies hold in the cool.

1994: Tall yellow cressleaf groundsel still in full bloom throughout the pastures. Water iris open in the swamp across from the Covered Bridge.

1997: North 100 miles or so to Canton: We drove back in time almost a week, from the full bloom of blackberries up into last week’s azalea bloom. Dogwoods were out in Zoar, but had fallen days ago in Yellow Springs. Although the canopy is almost full here at home, it is definitely thinner and brighter there. Honeysuckle flowers starting to weather here, full there. Spitbugs found on the thistles at a rest stop.

1998: A large formation of geese flew north across town this morning at 7:00. Morning birdsong still loud these days. First orange tiger lily opened in the north garden. Mulberries, black and white are falling to the street, the same time that osage orange blossoms fall along the west border of the yard. Pink and white astilbe suddenly early full. Yucca stalks are up to my chin and full of buds.

1999: The first mulberries were ripe in the alley west of High Street yesterday. Privet bushes are in full bloom along our north hedge and all over town. Catalpas also full, some brand new flowers already falling. Camel cricket seen in the house at 4:30 a.m.

2000: First sundrop primrose opened against the south wall today. Motherwort noticed blooming, probably started a few days ago. Roses full early bloom. White rhododendrons stay. Catalpas early bloom throughout town.

2001: First tiger lily opening in the yard. Moneywort open at the Mill.

2002: The basic sequence : 4:17 a.m. full chorus of robins, 4:40 a.m. first titmouse, 4:46 a.m. first doves, 4:48 a.m. first cardinals, 5:00 squirrels active, robins mating, 5:10 a.m. grackles, 5:14 a.m., first crows, 5:15 a.m. first carpenter bee out of the woodwork.

2004: Wild multiflora roses have disappeared. Tiger lilies seen by the side of the road on the way to Fairborn. Dark mulberries falling to the sidewalk along Dayton Street. Small camel cricket found in a coffee cup in our cupboard. Cressleaf groundsel is going to seed, but still provides color to the garden. Some Canadian thistles going to seed along the highway. First achillea flowering. Peach-leafed bellflower late. Sparrows and cardinals still building nests in the back yard. Peaches are the size of large acorns. Allium seed heads fully formed. Sweet rockets almost completely gone, cut back.

2006: In the back yard, the Dutch iris and the violet standard iris are almost gone, the mock orange is losing all its petals, the osage flowers fall, the sweet rockets decay quickly. The alley has changed so much since spring. Of course there would be changes. Why do I expect it to provide more stability than the garden? Why do I miss the flock of winter starlings in the black walnut tree at the corner? The lilacs, the magnolias and bridal wreath spirea are gone. Mateo’s weigela is down to about a third of its petals. The bed of aconites has disappeared, leaves yellowing a month ago. The alley was a private passageway, common to all, but mine at those few minutes every morning when I walked through it. Did I confuse privacy with constancy? Or is it something else like the quietness of the houses, the cutting down of the great euonymus vine, the solitude of certain neighbors, the dying maple in Lil’s old back yard that produces a mild melancholy that I confuse with the end of spring and other closures, the vague emotions mixing and blending?

2007: The first two Japanese iris bloomed dark purple in the pond today, and the pale violet pond iris continue late full (and one in the redbud garden as well). White clovers have recovered from the mowing after dandelion bloom, fill the lawn again. Cressleaf groundsel has been going to seed this past week. Daisy fleabane flowered yesterday near the variegated Japanese knotweed. Ranunculus has dwindled to maybe a tenth of its most extravagant bloom. More yellow coneflowers have sprouted and developed over the past week, so slow to form. The transplanted stella d’oros have buds. Other ever-blooming lilies have been out quite a while now in the area. This evening about 7:30, a hummingbird visited the feeder near the pond.

2009: A hummingbird came to the penstemon this morning before sunrise, and the red-bellied woodpecker called at 6:00. In the garden, the first stella d’oro lily opened overnight. The tails of the lizard’s tail have started to form. Don’s pie cherries are turning red, and the black raspberries in the alley have formed small, green fruit. The grackles and cardinals continue to feed their babies in the yard. The fragrance of Japanese honeysuckles and privets have replace the fragrance of peonies, iris, mock orange and Korean lilacs. Yucca stalks are three or four feet tall.

2010: Very strong cardinals and robins at 4:30 – 5:00 a.m. Another huge yellow swallowtail seen today. Chicory and elderberries all over along the freeway to Dayton. Blanket flowers and some coreopsis seen along Dayton-Yellow Springs Road. A few strawberries red in the garden. Very thin blue darner laying eggs in the pond.

2011: In Spoleto, Italy: All the locust flowers and the azaleas of early May are gone, and buckeye blossoms have turned to spiny green fruit. Mock orange in late bloom. Linden buds ready to open.

2012: Inventory: First raspberries red at Peggy’s – ours almost red. Full bloom of oak leaf, hobble bush, Annabelle hydrangeas, first orange achillea open, first two zinnias in bloom, the second dahlia opening, Knockout roses full, spiderwort full, deadnettle lamium still full, sweet William still full, perennial salvia at the top of their stems, golden stella d’oro lilies and bright yellow primroses and clematis (fucia) full in the yard, the yellow rebloomng lilies open, the great blue hosta budded, the last peony collapsing. Yucca five feet and buds extended. Astilbe is in bloom now. Liz’s and our allium to green seeds, her prairie false indigo done for the year. Lace vine totally full bloom, pink spireum full,  a new brood of cabbage whites yesterday, seven on the clustered bellflowers. Yellow-orange sulfurs yesterday and today. Gooseneck coming in. Last pink weigela flowers. Butterfly bush budded at home (early blooms on the bush at High and Davis Streets), heliopsis with two new flower this morning, purple cones budded (Don with one cone open). Cherries still plentiful and red on Don’s tree. White mulberries turning pink, Sage flowers very late, penstemon still full, chives about gone. Birdsong continues intense from doves, cardinals, robins and grackles. The family of five grackle fledglings was back at the pond today. They have stayed together like the brood of cabbage whites. Watching hyacinths in the pond drifting back and forth in the current. Ninebark flowering along Dayton-Yellow Springs Road, early bloom. Kousa dogwood continues in full bloom along Limestone Street. Above the porch, Chinese wisteria almost completely gone. Winter wheat turning golden green, some haying seen. Peonies declining quickly in the yard.

2014: To Oxford, Ohio about 80 miles southwest of Yellow Springs: Yellow primroses, pink spirea, roses and sow thistles full bloom. Privet bushes starting. Linden flowers had turned to small berries, the flower sheaths fallen to the sidewalk, catalpa just starting.

2015: Madison, Wisconsin: late geum; many Dutch iris budding, many flowering; peonies throughout; cottonwood down; most locusts still seem fresh, but occasional trees are shedding. Lilacs and Korean lilacs late but still prominent in many yards, astilbe well budded, sweet rockets everywhere, garlic mustard gone, violet waterleaf, daisies, iris, peonies, wild spiderwort, celandine, baptisia full bloom, raspberries fruited, several golden lilies open – the color of stella d’oros but a different daylily variety. The cornfields had sprouted throughout the region.

2016: Jeanie’s ancient tea roses, both the yellow and the pink, opened overnight. Mateo’s weigeila suddenly down, mine more than half. Maple waterleaf around the yard has started to bloom, the white and the violet. Around town, full blooming primroses (mine still budding) and bright yellow yarrow. Some meadow goat’s beard along the road to the pond, hemlock all in bloom. The hackberry trees at the north end of the pond park were losing foliage, showers of yellowing leaves. Some losses noted in town, as well.

2017: Jeanie’s tea roses are finally gone now. One Knockout rose still has a flower or two, but it will also be gone soon. The first two of my primroses bloomed overnight. I opened up the garden gate to the street this morning, the primroses adding just enough to the areas of violet spiderwort to draw the eye in. Walking at John Bryant Park, very few flowers in bloom, but leafcup was getting tall, to four feet. The pond iris bud shows purple petals still wound tightly. Looking back at this date over the past thirty years, I see consistency and stability for plants in the yard and the region. The only concern I have is about insects. Fireflies have appeared on time; mosquitoes and the striped beetles are certainly healthy, but I see fewer butterflies, bees, flies.


  1. barbaraavaldez

    I was wondering if you were going to trace one motif throughout and then you generalized about insects at the very end. I kept looking for a flower that may have appeared throughout. You did mention iris and peonies (and in Idaho!) and I wondered if one were to trace one such flower common in all, what that might reveal about climate change, e.g., if anything. But that is perhaps to press too hard for a pattern rather than let it reveal itself, which may take more time and data. My friend Pam is now working for Fish & Game in Idaho working with data relating to diversity. I forwarded to her a page of your daybook. She, like I, was looking for that bit of a rise on the horizon, a slightly more abstract or philosophical statement. It is all there but what does it mean: an answer to that type of question? The sheer quantity and quality proving endurance and the persistence of creation? You would say it far more eloquently and completely than that, I’m sure.

  2. Bill Felker (Post author)

    The issues that Barbara and Pam bring up are good ones. Sometimes I have gone over my notes to track blooming dates of various plants in my garden and surrounding habitat over the years. Whenever I do that, I find a considerable inconsistency in such dates, but I also see a drift towards some seasons arriving earlier than they did thrity-five years ago.

    I did not start my note-taking for such reasons, though. I started my plant identification and writing down what I saw as a kind of reaching out after I stopped smoking, an attempt to look elsewhere, that is, other than at my own withdrawal. One habit replaced another, and I found flowers even more addictive than tobacco. As the daybook grew and the years passed, I attempted to place my daily entries in a wider context, started summarizing events by week as well as by days, enjoying the similarities and variations of what I saw.

    I found that my backyard natural history reflected a reassuring consistency. I found that things happened more or less when they had happened before. Perhaps a few more years of notes and more attention to trends of change and I will be able to see which and how many specific markers are different or the same than they were in 1983.

    What really fascnates me in all of this, however, is discovering my life in the observations I make. The daybook has become an autobiography in the sense Rousseau expressed in his Reveries of the Solitary Walker. When Rousseau went back through his botanical collections, he relived his life within what he felt was the idyllic context of his botanizing. And as I look through the notes I have made, I am reminded of the “peace and tranquility” that surrounded those moments, and I see that the practice itself, the practice of noticing the world and finding myself in and making myself part of its story, has been so much of my life.

    Rousseau’s statement:

    “All my botanical walks, the varied impressions made by the places where I have seen memorable things, the ideas they have aroused in me, all this has left me with impressions which are revived by the sight of the plants I have collected…. The collection is like a diary of my expeditions, which makes me set out again with renewed joy, or like an optical device which places them once again before my eyes…. It is the chain of accessory ideas that makes me love botany. It brings together and recalls to my imagination all the images which most charm it: meadows, waters, woods, solitude and above all the peace and tranquility which one can find in these places – all of it instantly conjures up before my memory.”

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker


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