Last week we visited Maryland. Walks through neighborhoods in the Silver Spring area took me past Yoshino cherry trees that had already lost most of their leaves. Due to the dry conditions in early autumn, the tree leaves had turned orange and yellow and then fallen off. Not so with the maples. Their leaves are currently changing to bright reds, with other tree species following suite in their respective colors.
Last week we visited Maryland. Walks through neighborhoods in the Silver Spring area took me past Yoshino cherry trees that had already lost most of their leaves. Due to the dry conditions in early autumn, the tree leaves had turned orange and yellow and then fallen off. Not so with the maples. Their leaves are currently changing to bright reds, with other tree species following suite in their respective colors. A group of black squirrels were frolicking in one pile of yellow leaves. Black squirrels? Yes, the black squirrels are actually Eastern grays squirrels with mutant pigment genes. This subgroup occurred in great numbers in the 16th century, living in the densely wooded areas with heavy shade. After the Europeans came ashore, hunting and chopping down the forests led to a noticeable drop in vulnerable black squirrel population. Lighter squirrels better survived. Today the dark squirrels occupy northern forested areas. They have greater cold tolerance and blend in with the dark scenery.
Ocean City Maryland is one of the beaches considered close to Washington DC (140 miles away.) It has three miles of wood boardwalk and human scale amenities and arcades. Each morning people sit on the sand and wait for the sun to rise over the Atlantic Ocean. When the tide comes in, surf boarders try to catch the next big wave as it rolls ashore. Directly south of Ocean City is the large 37 mile long barrier island that houses Assateague Island National Seashore. Just inside the boundary ponies defiantly stood in the middle of the road. Three hundred ponies live on the island. Obliging motorists would stop, grab cameras and snap pictures. Eventually we threaded our way past the cars and furry animals and cruised past bushes that appeared to be covered in snow. I would have believed it if we were in Montana.
Groundsel trees (Baccharis halimifolia) bloom in the fall and these had just set billions of tiny dandelion-like seeds now being dispersed in the wind. This hardy native coastal shrub is another member of the sunflower family. Locally called sea myrtle, cottonseed tree or saltbush, groundsel tree is fast growing, salt tolerant, and can handle nutrient poor soil such as sand. The female plants have thick silver-green foliage and the male plants produce flowers with abundant nectar. Groundsel trees provide wildlife cover and nesting sites; they attract small butterflies and bees that entice the birds.
Birds there were, both inland and along the edge of the water. The little sanderlings ran back and forth as the waves washed in and out. Herring and ring-billed gulls regally stood some feet away on the sloping sandbanks, watching their busy cousins work the beach. In the brush toward the interior darted yellow-rumped warblers. This I know since the birds have a yellow patch at the base of the tail that stands out like a beacon. Cardinals and mockingbirds joined the crew and added their songs from time to time.
As the plane flew back into Oklahoma, tinges of color could be seen dotting the landscape. When we drove to the Shawnee Pioneer Library to take down the Deep Fork Audubon display, Chinese Pistache berries were shiny red, the crape myrtle leaves had turned a reddish purple, and sweet gums were preparing to put on a brilliant show. In this area the sweet gum almost equals the maple on the color palette.
Did you see the Beaver moon last night? It was officially full at 12:23 am CDT am. This full moon signals it is time to set beaver traps since they are wearing their thick winter coats. No, no, no. The beaver population has dropped from 60 million to less than 12 million, so don’t do this. Another reasons is the beavers are industriously strengthening their dams before winter. The nocturnal beaver works and sings ‘by the light of the silvery moon.’ Couldn’t help it. Another name for the November moon is the Full Frost moon, the time when water begins to freeze over.
Early this morning at 2 am we gained an hour. Really. Daylight Savings time has gone away and we’re back to Central Standard Time until March 11th 2018. One extra hour of sleep. On the other hand, the sun will be setting an hour earlier in the afternoon and so will come your bedtime. If you lived in Oslo Norway, the sun barely rises before it sets a few hours later as the winter solstice approaches.
Tonight in Great Britain bonfires will burn across the country. The effigy of Guy Fawkes will be erected in the middle of most the fires. Guy and his merry band of 12 Catholic dissidents planned to send English King James 1 into orbit during the opening of Parliament on November 5th 1605. English Catholics had been repressed for years and they had hoped this king would be more tolerant. Instead, King James 1 publicly condemned Catholicism as superstition. Anti-King James conspiracies cropped up and failed, culminating in the Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes had become caretaker of the cellar directly below where King James 1, his oldest son, the House of Lords and the House of Commons would meet. The conspirators had stockpiled 36 barrels of gunpowder in that cellar. The night of November 4th, Guy had hidden behind the gunpowder, matches in his pocket, ready to blow Parliament sky high the next day. Around midnight, though, he was discovered by a search party.
Guy Fawkes was tortured in the Tower of London. Parliament declared November 5th a day of thanksgiving and Londoners lit small bonfires to celebrate the event. In January 1606, Guy and the remaining co-conspirators who had survived a shootout with English troops were hung, drawn and quartered. New laws were enacted banning Catholics from voting, serving in the military or practicing law; they remained in effect nearly 200 years. Often called Bonfire Night, it has now turned into a time for setting off fireworks, being with friends and family, and burning the Guy. While living in England, we took our young son to his first Bonfire Night. Other kids were dancing around having a great time. When he saw the Guy go up in flames, he wanted his Dad to rescue the Guy. It was daunting. When my mother and I rode the train out of London same time the next year, we saw countless bonfires scattered over the landscape.
Go forth and enjoy the shortening days of autumn. Did you remember to reset your clock?