“Man, I wish spring would show up!”
I overheard this lament again in a store the other day. But it is spring. The birds are all singing their courtship/territorial songs. Chipmunks are out as soon as it warms even briefly during the day chasing each other around to start the business of building families. The deer have started to shed their winter coats and look a little rough around the edges for it. The aspen are starting to send out their catkins – haven’t you been sneezing, too? Spring is all around us!
“There shouldn’t be snow this time of year!”
But the snow that falls now soaks gently and more deeply into the soil. It has a different quality about it, haven’t you noticed? And there won’t be many more days left to watch the snow fall in huge flakes while the wood stove puts out glorious heat; I do some of my best work in that situation.
So where does this myth of spring come from?
I think spring is suffering from Single Story Syndrome. That it only comes in one stereotypical form that’s promoted by the merchants who already have lawn chairs and shorts out in the aisles. I even saw bedding plants out – when our ‘safe date’ (safe from frost) here is June 7. Makes zero sense and most folks have enough sense to not buy them.
What do I mean by Single Story Syndrome? It comes rom this amazing Ted Talks that is much deeper than the seasons, but it still applies. Go ahead and watch…I’ll wait:
When we don’t pay attention to the details of the season – when we allow others to tell us the stories of nature, we risk the manipulation (and turning it all into a political statement at times) of the true story. The real stories are far more complex and interesting.
Spring and winter will continue their tug of war – especially here and in other parts of the country that are still expecting snow. Don’t fall into the trap of the myth of spring because you’ll miss it. It’s a fun back and forth that gives us the joys of both seasons for a short time. Keeping a phenology notebook protects you from the myth of any season and opens the door to thoroughly enjoying the reality that always awaits you outside.
Working today on my phenology notebook (among many other projects). Lots of work to transfer the digital record over to the analog notebook, and I’m liking how it’s coming together. Not long ago I found the old notebook I kept when we had been in this house for only a couple of years. That was back before I stopped recording things for awhile. I entered in all the older data to the list here on the site. Now I’m hand writing it in this notebook, and found a system for adding in photos.
Using Becky Higgins’ 4×12 pocket pages, I snipped off the top pocket carefully through the middle of the seal line. Then I folded a piece of scratch paper over, slipped the plastic pocketed page in the 3 hole punch and created the standard sized holes for this. If you don’t help the punch along with the double layers of paper, it can’t get a good bite on the plastic and you just end up messing it up. But with the paper support, it cuts the holes extremely well.
And with that third one I cut off? It works on it’s own in these smaller binders.
Don’t you just love those ‘AHA!’ moments – you know, where you realize something that seems huge and enormous – a connection you hadn’t noticed before. And then in the very next moment comes the realization of ‘Well, of course. That makes sense.’ It deepens your understanding of things.
While watching Brene’ Brown on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday yesterday, the whole issue of needing certainty was uncomfortable for me. Working on myself over the past few years, that uncomfortable feeling was a sure sign that this issue is poking at me for some attention. sigh.
So, I turned to the person that knows me best and who I can count on to give me the honest truth especially if it’s not something I really want to hear, my best friend, my husband. We talked about that need for certainty and he’s right: I want certainty so very desperately in everything. When I don’t find it, I pretty much shut down on that area of my life or project I’m working on and wait.
Ummm, that’s not a helpful reaction.
So how can I find the certainty I crave, the solid foundation we all crave, and better lean in to embrace all the uncertainty in life? To keep moving forward in the face of uncertainty?
This is where I had my ‘AHA!’ moment. Don’t expect certainty everywhere. Rely on it where it shows up consistently.
I probably have some of the deepest faith I’ve ever had in my life. It’s a certainty for me, the core of my life – the main certainty I can rely on. God…but there’s also ‘Nature’s God’ (as they used to say).
Phenology is another certainty to rely on.
Spring always follows winter. The little green leaves on the aspen trees will emerge. Rain will fall instead of snow one day. These are the things I know will come – and look for them. The longer I’ve been documenting the phenology around me, the earlier my dates have become because each little piece of information – the first clap of thunder during a spring snowstorm, the first insect to show up under the shop light, the first Pasque flower and Mountain Bluebird to be seen – each of those becomes a part of the certainty of spring and I know better where to look for it around the house and pay closer attention. It’s a good habit to cultivate.
Documenting phenology has allowed me to add another little layer of certainty to life. This is why, when nothing is certain during a tumultuous time in life, nature can bring so much comfort – especially the nature that aligns with your own spiritual geography. For some, that’s the ocean, for others their garden, for me, the mountains.
If you’ve not ever really paid attention to the emergence of spring and the shifts that march us through the seasons only to repeat again next trip around the sun…consider starting a phenology notebook somehow. I have a set in my shop, and of course, appreciate any purchases, but you can keep it in a calendar, online, or simply in a set of notecards.
For inspiration, listen to some recordings of the Phenology Show by John Latimer on KAXE in Minnesota. I’m always amazed at how closely the seasons in Minnesota are to the mountains of Colorado.
I can promise you that once you start this type of documentation, it will bring you a small patch of certainty to life in a very uncertain world.
Hello Time Change!
While my body might not enjoy adjusting to the time changes, my spirit usually soars with them. It shifts my schedule to different light that, in this case, signals the time to shift into summer gear. We still have a ways to go, but now is a time to take all sorts of phenology notes. Even here in Cody I can’t help but notice the changes happening all around here.
Rabbits are leaping and chasing all over. | Mule deer Bucks are starting to drop their antlers here in town. | Crocuses and Iris are sending up leaves in Mom’s garden and I keep checking them for blooms. | Bison up North Fork are more active. | Aspen trees outside of BBHC are starting to send out catkins. | The first Grizzly bear has been seen in Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone. | Pairs of Ravens are seen flying their courtship dance. | And a report came in of Wild Turkeys strutting their stuff along South Fork.
At home Mike said he spent some time watching a pair of woodpeckers testing out various trees – house hunting – and the snows we are finally receiving melt rather quickly with warmer days and a stronger sun.
If you’ve not kept notes about all the changes going on in nature – think about starting a phenology notebook this year. Paying closer attention – being more mindful to the world around you brings a joy and a grounding that modern society often misses because it hides in plain sight. Start this year. Start now. Get outside and enjoy!
I’m finding more time on Mondays or Tuesdays to write up the Weekly Phenology Summary, so – at least for now – this is when they’ll be.
This morning is a bit chilly, with an occasional snow shower moving through. Down in Colorado Springs, though, they’ve already got a couple of inches on the ground. Upslope. That’s when the storms come in on the plains and back up against the mountains. In this area, if that happens up in the Monument area, along the Palmer Divide, it might make it over to us. But if it has to make it up Ute Pass, it may not. So far, it’s not looking like this storm will make it here.
And we are dry again. So far this winter we’ve only had 19″ of snow – and a few dustings that weren’t included in the total. Last week we had a couple of warm days in the upper 50′s, which melted most of the snow pack we had. Only deep in the trees does some remain. And, of course, in their infinite wisdom, the forest service has nearly clearcut things so there are few trees to help hold in the snow. They’re getting ready to start on a section near us. We’ll see how this ‘experiment’ works out.
Last night while talking about it, Mike pulled up the Snotel sites. Snotel sites were put up in the 70′s if I remember correctly to monitor the snowpack. That helps the cities, who own the water rights, to manage it better. It doesn’t look all that good for us this summer. This is a screenshot of the forecast for how they think we’ll look on June 1.
In fact, we’re right on track to basically match 2002, the year of the Hayman fire, started by a forest service gal in an attempt to get a reward – an unintended consequence of rewarding workers for spotting and helping to put out fires. The fires that year started in late March. Single digit humidity was the norm. You know, below 5% humidity, you can drink all the water you want and never really get fully hydrated.
So – it’s time to purge and organize. That’s a main goal here in February for us. Going through things, packing up some to evacuate or just flat out take down to the storage unit we’ve already got. Minimizing the amount of work to do in the likely event we do have to evacuate. Going through that the first time is hard because you don’t know what to expect. But after that, you know exactly what’s important to you and what you can let go of. And, we’ll start whiddling back on our water usage. We’ve never had our well run dry (knock wood), but I don’t want to find out what the limit for it is. Being on a well, we actually use very little water because most of it goes right back down into the ground again. People in the city, though, are going to face pretty serious rationing, and soon, I would guess.
This week I’ve been changing the location of the trail cam – and picked up a coyote. It didn’t pick up the fox, though, that was nearby that morning when Mike left for work. I normally don’ t put it out in this spot in the winter due to the snow pushing the animals in other directions, but the path that goes through here holds promise for some traffic with no snow to speak of.
Last week when Mike was working in the field, they saw some wild turkeys and a nice buck – still hanging onto his antlers. And a herd of about 75-100 elk – many of the bulls still with antlers as well, but none of the large racks, so perhaps those are being shed first?
Have a good week and take notes on what all you see. Building a phenology notebook really is a rewarding project. I’ll be sharing more soon about mine. Just still pulling bits and pieces together.
New in the shop this week is a nature calendar/phenology notebook set. Before offering this, I had to make sure that 365 pages would fit in the binders. Plus, I’ve been meaning to set up my own physical phenology journal for awhile now. They do fit, but it’s a bit tight, and since I’ll also be including a yearly yard bird list as well as some other compilations/layouts (moth photos, etc), I needed just a bit more wiggle room – ok, a lot more wiggle room – so I’m starting out with two binders – both painted with a base coat of Martha Stewart’s Gray Wolf paint.
I love painting these chipboard binders simply because I can keep on experimenting with techniques that I like to decorate them. If I don’t like how it came out, I just add another layer of paint. I expect these to shift and change their looks over time, but this set will be with us for a LONG time (unless we move, then they’ll likely stay with the house), so I want more of a classic base – neutral – nothing really trendy.
But I did have some fun with my silhouette and a plastic binder cover I found at Office Max – perfect weight to create my own stencil and used a silver ink pad with a paint brush to fill it in. I’ve GOT to do more of these…
For the dates on the sheets of field journaling paper, I used my grandmother’s old typewriter and pounded out the dates one by one (and took a photo with my phone). I did that around Christmas simply because I couldn’t find any date stamps anywhere that were really just a plain classic look. Of course, now, there have been a ton of releases of stamps that would have worked thanks to the popularity of Project Life. But an old typewriter works as a classic method, so I’m sticking with that.
Keeping a phenology notebook helps you figure out the calendar the nature around you uses. I deeply believe knowing this calendar is the source of deep-rooted comfort to our souls. It helps us to look ahead, and to be patient. It helps us get in tune with nature’s pace.
I simply watch the world around and me, wait for the first flowers, thoroughly enjoying the two-note song of the Black Capped Chickadee and document it all – because I find joy and comfort there. I bet you will, too.
I apologize for the tardiness of this report – all I can really share right now is that lots is happening behind the scenes. Lots of typical creative struggles happening on a daily basis, but knowing they’re typical helps to blast through them. I’m still a few months away before I can really share anything. If posts start getting random, know it’s just that I’m still jamming from one project to the next as fast as possible and a slowly as it requires.
But onto the phenology…
While the flock of Gray-capped Rosy-finches returned on Sunday long enough for Mike to also see them, this little guy – common as can be – has stolen my heart again by being the first one to announce spring with just two little notes. I first heard them on January 8th – and again most all day on the 12th and many days since then. The 8th was a warm day and I thought maybe that prompted the song, but I’ve also heard it when it was well below freezing. I have no idea of how normal it was to hear the first call on the 8th as black-capped chickadees have only been hanging around for a couple of years now. And I think this is the first year we have two males working to define territory and attract a mate.
If you look at the phenology page, you can see that the very first signs of spring are starting now.
Our neighbor, Deb told me yesterday that she has been seeing a pair of foxes cavorting around – and the dens I know of from years past have had more footprints around them, so mating season for the fox is likely just around the corner. We typically see the fox pups around the dens in early to mid May which is when they’re around 4-5 weeks old. Working backwards from there, and adding in the ~7.5 week gestation period, that puts the mating season at the end of January to the first part of February. I’m really hoping they choose to use the den right down below our house where I should be able to watch the pups from the deck, and can swing around to the road to get photos. The other known den is just off of our property under some large boulders that give 5 or more entrance/exits from the den. It hasn’t been used in years, though, due to the neighbor dogs who wander down there. When one of those dogs was a puppy, we saved it from being a snack for the fox kits. A fox was ‘playing with her’ and leading her down that way when we noticed and intervened.
I actually expected to see a pair of foxes set up house near here last year. It seems the cycle of wildlife shifts and changes in a pretty obvious pattern. Right now we have lots of squirrels, chipmunks & ground squirrels and a ton of rabbits. With that much food, some predator moves in. A neighbor a few roads over, though, says they’re seeing a lot of coyotes and hearing them regularly. So maybe that’s kept the foxes denning up elsewhere.
After our somewhat of a cold snap a week or so ago, things have really warmed up. I know the cold can be hard on some people, but I miss the -40° F week or two we used to get. The reason for that is simple – it kills bugs. In particular, it kills the bark beetles. Climate change? Perhaps. Or perhaps this is just a result of cities with acres of bluegrass lawns that really don’t belong here in the west – and cloud seeding done by so many cities to try and bring a bit more water to their watershed and ski resorts to their slopes. Or perhaps this is all part of a larger cycle we don’t have enough years of data to really see yet. Whatever it is, we are in a serious drought right now – more serious than I think most people realize. It’s going to be a mighty interesting summer if we don’t get snow – but I still hold out hope that March and April will bring us the deep snows. And if not, then we’ll spend the summer ready to evacuate.
I’m working on the setup of my physical phenology notebook – and am debating breaking it up into two parts – I’ll share here as soon as I get them far enough along to share.
For now, I’ll leave you with the trail cam captures from this past week…
This guy has been around for the past few days – hanging pretty close to the house, but not necessarily crossing in front of the trail cam. Yesterday morning as I sipped my coffee and looked out the window, I watched him come up and cross over the ridge on which the house and dog yard sit. He would take a step, then listen, take a couple more and listen. He was listening intently to something down in the valley – it could have been someone or a dog at one of the houses below, but it also could have been something else. Our dogs have been sniffing hard down there rather often. I need to put on my boots and head that way some day and look for any telltale tracks in the snow.
Watching him reminded me of a time I mentioned to a gal at Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone that it took me a bit one morning to determine who was making noise outside the window. I finally guessed it was the deer and later looked and confirmed it. She asked me how I could tell by the sound. Prey animals tend to pause and listen every few steps. A bison would have had heavy steps, and fewer pauses. Deer or antelope/pronghorn would pause often to listen, then munch, then take a step or two and pause again. Predators (including humans) tend to walk constantly in a single line with no pauses – unless they’re hunting or smell or see something of interest.
I then told her of the time my husband and I were out scouting for an upcoming elk hunt. When hunting (either with rifles or cameras), we walk like prey animals. And, with concentration, the person following can do the job of the back legs of a four-legged animal. I timed my footsteps to coincide with my husband’s to create a walking gait of another animal. We’d pause, listen, rustle the foliage on the ground for a moment and then take some more steps.
Suddenly, he caught sight of a large bull elk who was ready to take us on as a challenging bull. Guess we did a good job. Too good. I only caught a glimpse of him before both of us stood with our backs up against trees that would hide us from him. Between us we had two pocket knives. He had LOTS of muscle behind very sharp antlers. We could hear him as he tossed his antlers around in the smaller trees and snorted and such for a good 30 seconds to a minute until he decided there wasn’t anything there for him to attack. I don’t think I hardly breathed during those achingly long seconds.
But back to this week’s phenology -
New Year’s Day we woke to the most amazing frost I’ve seen in a long time. The crystals formed were almost an inch long and just gorgeous. Angel Wing frost – when the wind came up even slightly, the large triangles (mostly) would helicopter their way to the ground. Lovely way to start the year!
We’ve had some cold nights lately where one of us usually gets up in the middle of the night to stoke the fire. Those have finally convinced the pansies in the window box to give it a rest for awhile. But they were blooming almost up to Christmas Day:
Have a great week and make a bit of time to watch the nature that surrounds you – even in a city – it’s there. I’ll leave you with the video of the trail cam captures:
“‘May all your hours be sunny’ is another way of saying ‘May you perish in the drought.’”
~Edwin Way Teale from his book, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm
It’s dry. This last week we’ve seen humidity some days in the single digits. It’s warm. Most days lately reach well into the 50s. I cannot stress enough how much I despise brown winters. As the sun rises lower into the sky each day, it becomes more and more uncomfortable to be outside and facing south. Blinds are pulled. On the days we’ve had clouds, the blinds are open and my eyes relax.
The volunteer pansies are still blooming in the window box beside the window where I sit. Blooms freeze overnight, but invariably by afternoon, more appear. I probably need to give them a bit of water along with the rest of the garden that’s been neglected for too long.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a regular morning flock of about 20-30 Evening Grosbeaks show up on a daily basis. That number has at least doubled. While outside this morning, the sound of them cracking open the black oil sunflower seeds and letting the shells drop to the ground sounded almost like rain. The Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches are definitely getting comfortable with us. While filling the bird bath with water this morning, one of the Mountain Chickadees kept flying in, landing, and flying off, just inches from me. The Pygmy Nuthatches almost need to be brushed off before I can fill the feeders at times. All of them, though, ascend in a group to the safety of the tree near the feeders at the first audible ‘quark’ from a Raven.
We also had a visit from a lone Red-Winged Blackbird. Normally they don’t come over the ridge that separates our road from the next one which has a stream. I haven’t really checked the stream water level recently, but I imagine it’s down. Perhaps he just joined the Grosbeaks to see where they went. He did visit the birdbath as well. Kind of unusual for them to still be hanging around up here at the end of November (photo taken the 27th through double paned windows, so not the greatest, but enough to ID and document).
In my last Friday Phenology report I mentioned about how the Evening Grosebeaks eat the spruce worms. Between the Grosbeaks, Chickadees and Nuthatches, I’ve noticed when it gets warm (and the feeders have been drained for the day), they move to the trees and mainly work on the branch tips. Mainly spruces and firs – the ones that were absolutely covered in spruce moths this last summer. An infected tree usually will have a few tips that grow curled in the spring.
But the Blue Spruce next to the house has many branch tips that look like this:
So do the Douglas Fir trees:
Obviously they are finding food there. It will be interesting to see how those branches grow next spring. I image without the needles, if we do get the week or two of deep freeze in January or February, those brand buds may not have the protection they need to make it through.
The trail cam this week was fairly active – showing the deer are still in rut.
Get out there and learn and explore. Watch your world and look into the things you find interesting. You don’t want to end up not knowing enough like this. It’s just amazing how the deer cross our road in about the same spot all the time without a deer crossing sign!
Yesterday, while working on telling the stories of November, it dawned on me that this really is my Story Catching Field Journal. It’s a place for the stories of life to land. And, as my husband reminded me, I have multiple field journals and they all really need individual names. So, this is the the Story Catcher.
It’s really fairly simple. I used a ticket punch from EK Success that I had on hand. You could use circles or whatever shape seems to fold nicely that works for you. I’m using a color in the examples here so it shows up better. I’ll be using this same technique to set up my phenology notebook soon. Oh, and The paper used to create the ‘cover’ of this is from My Mind’s Eye – The Sweetest Thing Tangerine. I wasn’t keen on the B-side, so I cut out another sheet from the same set and glued the two together.
Basically, the alphabet tab letters use the top ticket punch, folded in half, and with the letter stamped twice – next to the fold. The stamps came from a $1 bin at Walmart sometime last year, and I used Tim Holtz’ distress inks.
To line them up all neatly, I created a guide using one of the sheets of Field Journaling paper and measured out the spacing.
And glued each tab into place.
The same was done for the months, only using the larger ticket sized punch.
The stories will be filed under the alphabet tags by their one or two word titles. Then on the matching tabbed page, I’ll list the story along with the date of it. To cross reference, it will also be added to the appropriate month tab.
The month tabs will house the daily report or the “Ta Done!” list – (Ta da! It’s done!) and weather or other daily observations. I may not get to every single day, and short observations are fine – I’ll just draw a line and start the next day’s observations on the next line on the paper per the traditional method of keeping a field journal as shown below in the trail cam log.