Posts Tagged Autumnal Equinox
I can feel it. Can you? The strong push of our first serious cold front arrives later today, abruptly escorting summer out the door, making room for the arrival of the autumnal equinox at 9:03 EDT this evening. It is time to synchronize our systems to this turning of the seasonal wheel.
The natural world has been readying itself for the last month. Leaves have been browning and dropping prematurely, calling it quits early, thanks to a two-month drought. It is impossible to walk anywhere in my yard without risking web face. Mama spiders of all kinds have spread their traps wide to catch as much prey as quickly as possible, fuel for the laying of their egg sacs. Most of the American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries are gone, devoured by birds fattening up ahead of migratory travels. American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) fruits still linger, at least until traveling troupes of American Robins spot them.
Late-season wildflowers bloom on valiantly despite the drought. Asters abound as do tickseeds, various sunflower family bloomers, and Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata) in the wildflower meadows on my hilltop. Floodplain bloomers continue with enthusiasm. That soil is still moist, thanks to the work of beavers. Here, Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) and abundant Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) mingle with Crown-beards (Verbesina helianthoides) and Late-flowering Thoroughwort (Eupatorium serotinum). River oats seeds dangle in breezes. Swamp Milkweed seeds float on silken parachutes, drifting to unknown destinations.
Great Blue Herons still stalk shallow creek water for fish or frog meals, while a Belted Kingfisher flies overhead, uttering its rattling territorial call. My wildlife cameras tell me the white-tailed deer are gearing up for mating season. Groups of heavy-antlered bucks strut through the dark, sometimes stopping to tussle with each other, antlers locked. A mama raccoon strolls by with two youngsters almost her size following. A solitary opossum waddles past, stopping briefly to dig at something it smells in moist soil. A coyote patrols the dark, seeking unwary victims. All the creatures know it is time to fatten up, secure a winter stronghold, readying themselves for summer’s unwinding into colder seasons.
As I walked my yard this morning, I took a lesson from surrounding flora and fauna. I slowed my pace. I stopped often to savor the beauty of late bloomers, give thanks for abundant walnuts and pecans dropping from laden trees, and the still-ripening sweet Italian peppers in my vegetable garden. Syncing with the autumn season feels good. I am done with summer, ready for a slower time, a fresh start, a dance with gold and crimson fallen leaves in crisp air.
Welcome, Autumn! I am ready for your arrival, grateful for the constancy of the turning of the seasonal wheel, comforted in knowing that winter’s meditative slumber will soon be upon us.
Changing light has been signaling its coming for the last month. Even as oppressive tropical air made deep breaths a challenge, the slant of light through the trees, the later-rising sun and its earlier sunsets promised it was coming.
The trees couldn’t wait for it. Without rain for over two months, many surrendered without coloring. Brown, dried leaves covered brown plants below as dust devils whirled in heat even the cicadas couldn’t handle any more.
Unmoving, shallow water in the creek was stagnant and bathwater warm. Every day, black and turkey vultures gathered on dead sycamores for baths, taking turns to splash, then dry off in searing sun on a branch, wide wings spread to expose every feather.
I had never seen a great blue heron pant, but wildlife cameras by the creek caught one several times, beak open, throat convulsing, tongue slightly extended. A lone female coyote prowled during nights of heavy air, constantly sniffing. Only one doe managed to rear a fawn successfully this year, judging by the cameras. All of them had been heavily pregnant. Madame Coyote’s clan likely ate well this summer.
In the last two weeks, two tall bucks have been photographed pacing both sides of the creek, sniffing the heavy air for does, their eight-point antlers evident on moonlit nights as their reflections in the creek kept pace. One night, a lone beaver swimming by slapped the water hard when it saw the bucks, sending them crashing through the forest.
Yesterday and today, plentiful rain has arrived. Song birds are livelier than they’ve been in weeks. I can feel all the plants exhaling a long sigh of relief. My hands grow itchy with the urge to plant a few new wildflower and grass species in the growing meadow on the hill that has become a favorite hangout of seed-eaters, from finches to wild turkeys.
Rain on the roof lulls me into sleepiness. Tonight I will dream of Autumn’s arrival. I will revel beneath a blanket for the first time in months as chilly air following the rain arrives and settles over the landscape. The still-nearly-full moon will gleam through departing clouds. Barred owls will celebrate, their calls echoing across the floodplain.
Never have I been more grateful for the turning of the seasonal wheel. May rains wash us clean, may crisp air reawaken our hearts, may longer nights bring us dreams of better days for all of Earth’s inhabitants.
Finally, my favorite season of the year has arrived! In honor of this momentous moment, I offer you a few photos I took yesterday afternoon when the sun appeared after days of clouds. This is the season of fruits and nuts (I refer to botany, not humanity), so that’s mostly what you’ll see here.
If this gorgeous native is not yet part of your landscape, consider planting one this fall. And I know just the place you can pick one up the weekend-after-next.
I won this pink-berried form in a raffle when I was going through Green Gardener training at the NC Botanical Garden — yet another benefit of volunteering there.
This delicate nest woven of bark strips and pine needles fell from my evergreen Kousa dogwood. Very autumnal, don’t you think?
This is another lovely native shrub that will be available at the NC Botanical Garden’s upcoming Fall Plant Sale, but only plant it if you have a spot where deer can’t reach it. The evergreen stems of this beauty make it irresistible to them during food-scarce winter months.
The Asian Kousa dogwoods are not native, but I’ve seen no signs they are invasive, and their wow factor in the landscape is undeniable. The berries of my native dogwoods are already nearly gone, thanks to the Pileated Woodpeckers, which have been partying in those trees for several weeks now. The red globes produced by the Kousas don’t seem to appeal to as many birds, although I’ve seen Northern Cardinals enjoying them. Squirrels seem to like them quite a bit.
Most interesting to me are the subtle differences in the fruits of my deciduous Kousa dogwood and the evergreen Kousa. See for yourselves.
The fruits of the evergreen form never look as “spiky” as those of the deciduous Kousa. And they are never as deeply red.
My Red Buckeye is loaded down, as usual.
The pecan trees had a rough summer. It was just too dry, and there’s no way I can water them. Still, they managed to produce a few, rather unappetizing-looking nuts. The squirrels will no doubt try them before long.
The native Swamp Milkweed and Butterfly Weed seed pods continue to develop. You can pick these up at the NC Botanical Garden Fall Plant Sale too.
Not autumnal, but too pretty to ignore, my giant non-native Loropetalums are pushing out quite a number of flowers, even though they’re supposed to bloom in the spring. They do this almost every year, and it doesn’t seem to prevent them from doing it again when they’re supposed to bloom. I love the contrast with their lovely purple leaves — the reasons these non-natives made it into my garden.
This species of orb weaver moves in multitudes to my windows — on the outside — every fall. This one is pretending it’s not a spider, because I disturbed it. They grow fat off the moths attracted to the lights in our windows every night.
Of course, I can’t end a post welcoming fall without showing a few colorful fallen leaves. These are off one of my native Black Gums, which always color up early and spectacularly. This magnificent native tree will also be available at the NC Botanical Garden Fall Plant Sale.
I hope this post helps all my readers celebrate autumn’s arrival, and gets your fingers itching to plant some new native beauties in the cooling, moist soils of the season. So gather ye pumpkins while ye may — and add some new natives while you’re at it.
Happy fall, ya’ll!