Friday, November 22, 2013

Greeting the Seasons

River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
I heard a small group of Sandhill Cranes calling when I was out at Paynes Prairie the other day. The huge wintering flocks should be arriving soon--a sure sign that Fall is fading into winter--and I can't wait! The sound and sight of cranes flying in from the North has worked its way into my heart and soul and I get an ecstatic rush of happiness when I know they are back again each year. Somehow for me, the return of the cranes signals that things are changing according to schedule and everything is right in the world. Everywhere I look I see signs of the changing seasons and today it got me thinking. People who move to Florida often complain that we don't get to experience the changing seasons or Fall colors. But yet, when I look around, I see the changing seasons everywhere. Why can't everyone see it? I think it's a matter of perspective. If you measure your year by the traditional 4 seasons, as experienced in the midwest and northeast, you're always going to feel out of sorts when things don't match your expectations. But this only describes the experience of a small part of the world. The most southern US does not have a white Christmas. Fall does not bring orange and red falling leaves in the Tropics. The seasons are opposite in the Southern Hemisphere.  And yet, of course, the seasons are changing everywhere. It's just that the changes may not be what some people are used to.
Subtle Colors on the Prairie
Over my time living here, I've reshaped my view of the turning of the year. I grew up in a climate with the distinct 4 seasons, so the first winter here felt a little strange. But one day in that first December after moving from Wisconsin, my husband and I realized that the sky was blue, the sun was bright and were very happy to be experiencing a Florida winter. It was different, but great! You'll get no complaints from us. 
Sparkling Stars--Spent Goldenrod Flowers (Solidago sp.)

I learned that we have fall colors here, too. In the early fall, the colors come from the purple, white and yellow fields of blooming wildflowers and grasses. But later in November, the colors of the trees and shrubs change to more subtle shades of brown and off-white, purple or yellow with the occasional splash of red or orange. They're not the expanses of fiery red and orange that you get in a climate with really cold winters, but the colors do change. Saltbush, Virginia Creeper, Burrmarigold, Asters and Sumac provide accents to the palette. The sun is lower in the sky, taking the edge off the brightness of the light. Everything looks softer. The colors and the seasons are subtly changing right before our eyes. I think you just have to want to see them and you will. 
Purple: Elliott's Aster (Symphyotrichum elliottii)

Orange: Firebush (Hamelia patens)

Green Turns to Brown: Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

Splash of Red: Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Soft White: Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia)

Yellow: Smilax sp.

Fall Colors: Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Now that I've lived here for a while, my take on North Florida seasons go like this: Fall is purple, yellow and white. It is the time of brilliant wildflowers and butterflies, drier, cooler temperatures, and golden light. Fall brings migrating Warblers and Monarch and Sulphur butterflies. It's time to open the windows to let in the fresh air. The bees are feeding with increased urgency because they know the flowers that are blooming won't be around long. The winter starts to creep in at about Thanksgiving. The temperatures are cooler still and warm coats, hats and mittens come out of the cupboards. The flowers have finished blooming and the dead seed heads look like shiny stars in the landscape. The cranes arrive. The leaves are changing to gold and red and the greens turn to browns.  A warm, sunny day can bring out the zebra longwing butterflies who can often last through the winter because they eat pollen. You can smell the smoke in the air from woodburning stoves and fireplaces. Winter means sweet, fresh citrus. Winter brings the best hiking and camping and kayaking season. The bugs are gone. Spring starts in January or February with the blooms on the redbud and dogwood. The camellias start blooming around Christmas and merge with the Azaleas in March. Spring is pink and fresh and cool. Toadflax and Spiderwort sprout in lawns and roadsides. The ash trees out front are crowded with loud and hungry orioles who scold me for forgetting their jelly, and the pipevine butterflies are laying their eggs on the new leaves. As it warms up, the cranes head back north. The humidity and heat return. Summer slowly begins in April, warming and building to August where the vines and green leaves cover everything and the cicadas and treefrogs croak, buzz and hum. Summer is wet and green. It's muggy, but it feels good to breathe in that warm, wet air. The summer heat warms up the turtles and snakes, and summer rains bring out the frogs and toads. Summer is Gallinules and Spoonbills, Swallowtailed Kites and Great Crested Flycatchers. It's tick and chigger time. The swallowtail butterflies flit around the Catesby's lilies, eager for the nectar in the deep recesses. The Mississippi Kites fledge their young and then they leave. And we're back to fall again.
Hungry Bee on Powderpuff Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa)
It's all a matter of perspective. And I think there is a message here. If you spend too much time looking to the past and comparing to past experiences, there is a danger that things won't match your expectations and you might be disappointed. Just be here and now. And enjoy. Wherever that may be.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher Eating Bugs on Spent Goldenrod

1 comment:

  1. Katherine..... your photographs are stunning. Loved your Christmas card. If you have time drop me a line on at my e-mail.