Using Phenology to Better Know Your Land

| 2/26/2016 4:34:00 PM

When I was a child, I marked the year by things that I observed outside far more regularly than the dates on the calendar. Fireflies meant that school would be over soon. Daylily buds meant my birthday was right around the corner.  And when the redwing blackbirds massed in the wetland behind my neighbor’s house, filling the air with a cacophony of clattering calls, I knew that snow would be flying shortly.

Early Spring Bluebells

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was becoming a budding phenologist. Though my parents’ backyard was a suburban corner lot that didn’t top out half an acre, I knew it well. I could tell you exactly where to hunt salamanders in the spring, when the different colored wildflowers would bloom (even if I didn’t know their name) and the changes the trees went through during the year (the Cottonwood was my favorite). This deep land-knowledge was embedded in my young mind, and now as an adult looking for her homestead, I know I’ll cultivate that same awareness and love for my acreage, wherever it is.

What is Phenology?

Phenology is “the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.”  Not to be confused with the fringy study of Phrenology (the detailed study of the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities), phenology is a great way to track the patterns of your local area and give yourself a sort of “sixth sense” about what has and will happen throughout the year.

Bird migrations, insect emergences, and budding trees all fall within the phenologist’s purview. Additionally, when an appearance changes drastically, it is usually an indication of something gone awry with the land. My childhood self discovered as much when the salamanders disappeared from my yard. A development had just sprung up down our street that same year. The majority of the riparian forest around our creek was levelled, effectively killing off that little population (and effectively waking up my inner Rachel Carson).

3/9/2016 9:38:25 AM

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