Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What makes #phenology local?

When I posted yesterday, I hadn't yet seen the small plot of black-eyed Susans that I noticed this morning as I headed West out of North Branch toward Cambridge. So, technically, yesterday's assessment was truthful, if not entirely accurate, or something like that. But, that was the only place today that I saw any black-eyed Susans, which I find strange. Also, after yesterday's posting, I noticed a red admiral butterfly flitting about the drive.

red admiral butterfly
red admiral butterfly
Photo by J. Harrington

If you slow down a little and look carefully, you should be able to see green seedheads of sumac developing nicely. I've seen about the same level of seed growth about everywhere there have been any seeds noticable. This is causing me to wonder, more and more, how one defines "local" in terms of phenology, since there can be so many microclimate and soil and precipitation and other variables within just a section (640 acres, one mile per side). Perhaps my interest in normative, rather than strictly descriptive, phenology is misplaced or misguided, but I'm reflecting Wendell Berry's observation, via Wallace Stegner, that "If you don’t know where you are, says Wendell Berry, you don’t know who you are."

milkweed, early July
milkweed, early July
Photo by J. Harrington

I doubt there will every be a standardized definition of "local," but the Chicago Botanic Garden's project, "Local adaptation of flowering phenology in common milkweed," reflects some of what I'm trying to get at. Another way to think about it is to ask how much phenology varies within a bioregion. Our local milkweed, which seems to be much more extensive than last year, is just starting to develop flowers on some of the plants. In a week or so the flowers should be about as well developed as the ones in the photo.

Clearly, much of phenology relates to the four seasons. Remember, there's about a three week difference between the start of a meteorological season and the corresponding astronomical season. Native Americans, I believe, didn't have that factor of almost a month shift. Ojibwe measure seasons roughly by months/moons, but even there "it should be noted that many people in different areas use different names for these or different names based on what they observe happening in their region..."


Western Dialect
Eastern Dialect
Gichimanidoo-giizis (Great Spirit Moon)
Manidoo-giizis (Spirit Moon)
Namebini-giizis (Suckerfish Moon)
Mkwa-giizis (Bear Moon)
Onaabani-giizis (Snowcrust Moon)
Onaabdin-giizis (Snowcrust Moon)
Iskigamizige-giizis (Sugarbushing Moon)
Pokwaagami-giizis (Broken Snowshoe Moon)
Zaagibagaa-giizis (Budding Moon)
Namebine-giizis (Suckerfish Moon)
Odemiini-giizis (Strawberry Moon)
Baashkaabigonii-giizis (Blooming Moon)
Abitaa-niibini-giizis (Halfway Summer Moon)
Miin-giizis (Berry Moon)
Manoominike-giizis (Ricing Moon)
Manoominike-giizis (Ricing Moon)
Waatebagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon)
Waabaagbagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon)
Binaakwe-giizis (Falling Leaves Moon)
Binaakwe-giizis (Falling Leaves Moon)
Gashkadino-Giizis (Freezing Over Moon)
Baashkaakodin-Giizis (Freezing Moon)
Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon)
Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon)
There's much more commonality in the Autumn and Winter moon events than in Spring and Summer. I've no idea why except that Spring and Summer move from South to North as the earth warms. Perhaps the earth seasonally cools more consistently than it warms? Once again I seem to have found myself at a point where the more I learn, the less I know, as I end up with more questions than answers. That's some of what keeps life interesting, right?

Intimate Detail


By Heid E. Erdrich


Late summer, late afternoon, my work
interrupted by bees who claim my tea,
even my pen looks flower-good to them.
I warn a delivery man that my bees,
who all summer have been tame as cows,
now grow frantic, aggressive, difficult to shoo
from the house. I blame the second blooms
come out in hot colors, defiant vibrancy—
unexpected from cottage cosmos, nicotianna,
and bean vine. But those bees know, I’m told
by the interested delivery man, they have only
so many days to go. He sighs at sweetness untasted.

Still warm in the day, we inspect the bees.
This kind stranger knows them in intimate detail.
He can name the ones I think of as shopping ladies.
Their fur coats ruffed up, yellow packages tucked
beneath their wings, so weighted with their finds
they ascend in slow circles, sometimes drop, while
other bees whirl madly, dance the blossoms, ravish
broadly so the whole bed bends and bounces alive.

He asks if I have kids, I say not yet. He has five,
all boys. He calls the honeybees his girls although
he tells me they’re ungendered workers
who never produce offspring. Some hour drops,
the bees shut off. In the long, cool slant of sun,
spent flowers fold into cups. He asks me if I’ve ever
seen a Solitary Bee where it sleeps. I say I’ve not.
The nearest bud’s a long-throated peach hollyhock.
He cradles it in his palm, holds it up so I spy
the intimacy of the sleeping bee. Little life safe in a petal,
little girl, your few furious buzzings as you stir
stay with me all winter, remind me of my work undone.



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